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Press Released: 06 May 2024

OPERA America Awards 2024 Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors

OPERA America is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2024 Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors.

Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors open doors for women artists by incentivizing professional opera companies of all sizes to engage women in key artistic roles. These hires enrich the production and performance of new operas and works from the inherited repertoire and inspire future generations of creative artists who identify as women. The initiative is generously supported by the Marineau Family Foundation as part of OPERA America’s commitment to improve gender parity in the field.

Grants were awarded to 10 opera companies that are advancing the careers of the following stage directors and conductors:

  • Beth Morrison Projects (Brooklyn, NY):
    Elizabeth Askren will conduct Sensorium Ex (Paola Prestini, composer; Brenda Shaughnessy, librettist)
  • Detroit Opera (Detroit, MI):
    Nataki Garrett will direct The Central Park Five (Anthony Davis, composer; Richard Wesley, librettist)
  • IN Series (Washington, DC):
    Shanara Gabrielle will direct Cradle Will Rock (Marc Blitzstein, composer and librettist)
  • Kentucky Opera (Louisville, KY):
    Kimille Howard will direct This Little Light of Mine (Chandler Carter, composer; Diana Solomon Glover, librettist)
  • LA Opera (Los Angeles, CA):
    Lina González-Granados will conduct Ainadamar (Osvaldo Golijov, composer; David Henry Hwang, librettist)
  • National Sawdust (Brooklyn, NY):
    Kaneza Schaal will direct Unto Us (Helga Davis and Ted Cruz, composers; Helga Davis and Langston Hughes, librettists)
  • Opera Colorado (Denver, CO):
    Chía Patiño will direct The Daughter of the Regiment (Gaetano Donizetti, composer; Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard, librettists)
  • Opera Orlando (Orlando, FL):
    Roberta Emerson will direct Treemonisha (Scott Joplin, composer and librettist)
  • Opera Steamboat (Steamboat Springs, CO):
    Amanda Berg Wilson will direct Welcome to the Madness (Leanna Kirchoff, composer; Rachel J. Peters, librettist)
  • Resonance Works (Pittsburgh, PA):
    Keturah Stickann will direct The Little Prince (Rachel Portman, composer; Nicholas Wright, librettist)

(See below for additional information about the artists.)

Since it was introduced in 2021, the Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Composers program has supported the career advancement of 22 stage directors and 11 conductors. OPERA America’s Professional Company Members are invited to apply for grants to subsidize up to 50 percent (up to $15,000) of the fees for a women stage director or conductor whose engagement marks an important step in the woman’s career.

“With the support of the Marineau Family Foundation, we are delighted to help these directors and conductors make company and repertoire debuts at opera companies of all sizes,” said Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “These women are enriching the art form and the field, and they serve as visible role models for the next generation of artists.”

Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors is one of OPERA America’s programs aimed at increasing gender parity across the field. Other initiatives include Opera Grants for Women Composers, the Mentorship Program for Women Administrators, and the Women’s Opera Network.

Since the inception of its granting programs in the mid-1980s, OPERA America has awarded over $23 million to the opera field to support the work of opera creators, administrators, and companies.

For more information about OPERA America’s grant programs, visit Grants.

About the Recipients

Beth Morrison Projects

Elizabeth Askren, conductor
Sensorium Ex (Paola Prestini, composer; Brenda Shaughnessy, librettist)

Sensorium Ex is a new opera by composer Paola Prestini and librettist/poet Brenda Shaughnessy that lives at the intersections of vocal and instrumental music, dance, disability, and assistive technology. It is a community-based work co-created with a composer, librettist, visual artists, technology specialists, and international disability artists and activists to develop “voice” through music, movement, and artificial intelligence. The project's creative team includes stage director Jay Scheib, music director Elizabeth Askren, and choreographer Jerron Herman. Commissioned and developed by Beth Morrison Projects and VisionIntoArt, Sensorium Ex will have its world premiere at the Common Senses Festival in Omaha in spring 2025 followed by an international tour.

Elizabeth Askren is a conductor, educator, and activist. She performs regularly with leading opera houses and orchestras throughout North America and Europe. Last season, she made mainstage debuts with The Dallas Opera, Hawai'i Opera Theatre, Des Moines Metro Opera, and Opéra de Dijon. She began the 2023–2024 season with back-to-back productions of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at New Orleans Opera and Portland Opera before returning to Hawai'i to conduct Pagliacci. A teacher at both Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute for Women Conductors and Paris Opera’s Academy, Askren made history by judging the Paris Philharmonic's inaugural La Maestra Competition for Women Conductors alongside her mentor, Marin Alsop. She is also the founder and artistic director of Transylvanian Opera Academy, Romania’s first opera studio. She holds degrees in piano and conducting from six institutions, including The Juilliard School and Oberlin Conservatory. Askren was recently appointed principal guest conductor of Hawai'i Opera Theatre.

Detroit Opera

Nataki Garrett, stage director
The Central Park Five (Anthony Davis, composer; Richard Wesley, librettist

Detroit Opera is proud to present The Central Park Five, directed by Nataki Garrett. The Central Park Five is an opera from composer Anthony Davis and librettist Richard Wesley that won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2020. It tells the story of five Black and Latino teenagers who were falsely accused of rape and assault in New York City’s Central Park in the late 1980s. The case became a media sensation — the teenagers were unjustly convicted but exonerated many years later by DNA evidence. Garrett’s visionary production brings to life how racial injustice has built separate and unequal worlds within our society, and how oppression continues to manifest into the present. This production was originally conceived by the director with Portland Opera, though Detroit Opera will work directly with Anthony Davis on the creation of an “opera house” orchestration of this important score. Originally written for chamber forces for its world premiere at Long Beach Opera, The Central Park Five has faced challenges in getting performances at larger theaters due to minimum orchestra guarantees. By inviting Davis to flesh out the orchestration for a larger ensemble, Detroit Opera is enabling the piece to be seen on larger stages around the world.

Nataki Garrett is the co-artistic director of One Nation/One Project and the national arts and health initiative #ArtsforEveryBody. She made history as the first executive artistic director and the sixth artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the first Black female in this role. Garrett previously served as acting artistic director at the Denver Center Theatre Company, where she was also the first Black person and the only woman to serve in that role. For nearly a decade, she stewarded the careers of emerging artists at CalArts School of Theater, where she served as associate dean and associate artistic director at CalArts Center for New Performance. Garrett was the first recipient of the Ammerman Award for Directing from Arena Stage, in 2019, and has also been honored with the 2022 United States Artist Fellowship and the National Directing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and Theater Communications Group in 2007.

IN Series

Shanara Gabrielle, stage director
The Cradle Will Rock (Marc Blitzstein, composer and librettist)

IN Series opens its 2024–2025 season with a new production of Marc Blitzstein's landmark work The Cradle Will Rock, starting a season celebrating the Federal Theatre Project and the labor movement in America. The production is directed by Shanara Gabrielle, the prominent D.C. actress, choreographer, arts advocate, producer, and director. The Cradle Will Rock marks Gabrielle’s first foray into opera though continues her legacy of work exploring the experiences and stories of America's workers. This new production continues IN Series' commitment to neglected and essential pieces of America's artistic history that seek justice ahead of their time.

Shanara Gabrielle is an artist working in a wide variety of mediums with a focus on gutsy and inventive theater for all audiences. Driven by tales of imagination and stories of justice, Gabrielle fosters new work and reimagines classics with artists of courage and depth. She has worked professionally at theaters across the country, including Arena Stage, Signature Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Guthrie Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Great Lakes Theater, Northern Stage, Idaho Shakespeare, Imagination Stage, Coterie Theatre, Chesapeake Shakespeare, the cell nyc, Goethe-Institut, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, Stages, Theatre for the New City, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Hollywood Playhouse, The Black Rep, Upstream Theater, and many more. She has worked as an artistic producer at the Kennedy Center, ENOUGH!, Arena Stage, and Shakespeare Theatre Company and is proud to serve as the producing artistic director of Theater Alliance in D.C.

Kentucky Opera

Kimille Howard, stage director
This Little Light of Mine (Chandler Carter, composer; Diana Solomon-Glover, librettist)

This Little Light of Mine is a new one-act opera inspired by the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper’s daughter who rose to national prominence at the 1964 Democratic National Convention by organizing to challenge those who sought to suppress Black voters. Workshopped at Kentucky Opera in 2021 and co-commissioned with the Santa Fe Opera as part of the Opera for All Voices initiative, This Little Light of Mine was composed by Chandler Carter to a libretto by Diana Solomon-Glover. Kimille Howard, director, and Dr. Everett McCorvey, conductor, will lead this new Kentucky Opera production. This Kentucky Opera production will be a culmination of performances and events that celebrate the life and legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer.

Kimille Howard is a New York-based director, deviser, writer, and filmmaker. She is an assistant stage director at the Metropolitan Opera and recently worked on the new James Robinson production of Porgy and Bess. She is the artistic director of the Lucille Lortel Theatre’s NYC Public High School Playwriting Fellowship and a co-founder of the Black Classical Music Archive. Howard was a member of the award-winning team of OPERA America’s 2022 Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Prize.

LA Opera

Lina González-Granados, conductor
Ainadamar (Osvaldo Golijov, composer; David Henry Hwang, librettist)

Set in Francoist Spain, Margarita Xirgu has spent half her acting career in exile, mourning Federico García Lorca, the dear friend whom she couldn’t convince to flee Francisco Franco’s reign of totalitarianism terror. Lorca was once on the verge of writing his way into a new Golden Age in Spain, but dictators have no use for poets. Grammy-winner Osvaldo Golijov’s dramatic, flamenco-inspired score meets a poignant libretto by David Henry Hwang in what the LA Times calls “one of the most moving and meaningful operas of our time.” Resident conductor Lina González-Granados leads this major company premiere starring Ana María Martínez, who takes center stage as Lorca’s muse Margarita Xirgu as she recounts the poet’s life and his last days in the Spanish Civil War. Daniela Mack steps into the role of Federico García Lorca, the man whose pen proved just as dangerous as any pistol.

Praised for her “rich, heartfelt orchestral sound” (Chicago Sun-Times), “rhythmic vitality” (San Francisco Chronicle), and “raw power” (LA Times), Colombian American Lina González-Granados has distinguished herself nationally and internationally as a singularly talented young conductor. Her powerful interpretations of the symphonic and operatic repertoire, as well as her dedication to highlighting new and unknown works by Latin American composers, have earned her international recognition, most recently as the recipient of the 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence as well as the 2020 and 2021 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award. In 2020, she was named the Solti conducting apprentice at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and served as the assistant to Maestro Riccardo Muti from February 2020 through June 2023. Last season, she was appointed resident conductor by the LA Opera, a post she will hold through June 2025.

National Sawdust

Kaneza Schaal, stage director
Unto Us (Helga Davis and Ted Cruz, composers; Helga Davis and Langston Hughes, librettists)

Unto Us is a reconceptualization of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity — a story we all think we know. This world premiere, conceived and co-written by multidisciplinary artist Helga Davis and directed by Kaneza Schaal, focuses on contemporary issues of impossibly doomed love and continued (dis)belief, highlighting and showcasing the brilliance and boldness of an all-Black creative team. This new, full-length contemporary opera production features three to four singers playing the part of both leads, a chorus, and instrumentation composed of piano and bass guitar, with the potential for additional percussion. The work will be fully staged and require minimal set design and props; the intention is for the work to be tourable without the burden of being expensive for companies across the U.S. National Sawdust will offer Kaneza Schaal a conducive environment for creative expression in its state-of-the-art venue.

Kaneza Schaal works in theater, opera, and film, and is based in New York City. Schaal's work has been shown in divergent contexts: NYC galleries, courtyards in Vietnam, East African amphitheaters, European opera houses, Egyptian theater festivals, U.S. public housing, and rural auditoriums in the UAE. By creating performances that speak many formal, cultural, historical, aesthetic, and experiential languages, she seeks expansive audiences. Domestically, her work has been shown at Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Kennedy Center, LA Philharmonic, The Shed, Walker Arts Center, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, The New Victory Theater, and New Orleans Center for Contemporary Art. Schaal has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, Herb Alpert Award, United States Artists Fellowship, SOROS Art Migration and Public Space Fellowship, Ford Foundation Art for Justice Bearing Witness Award, and Creative Capital Award.

Opera Colorado

Chía Patiño, stage director
The Daughter of the Regiment (Gaetano Donizetti, composer; Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard, librettists)

Opera Colorado proudly announces the company premiere of The Daughter of the Regiment, which will be presented at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in November 2024 and helmed by visionary director Chía Patiño. Drawing from her profound belief in the connection between humanity and art, Patiño infuses every production with honesty and clarity, and through her direction, The Daughter of the Regiment is sure to be a poignant exploration of love, resilience, and the human experience.

Under the baton of acclaimed conductor Ari Pelto and featuring the stellar talents of Katrina Galka, Andrew Stenson, Stefano de Peppo, and Catherine Cook, this production underscores Opera Colorado’s commitment to presenting operas rarely seen in Denver. The inclusion of a special cameo by drag queen sensation Monét X Change offers a unique opportunity to engage with and celebrate Denver’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community.

Born in Ecuador, Chía Patiño has forged an eclectic path as a pianist, composer, and stage director. She has staged zarzuela, musical theater, theater, and opera in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Guatemala, Colombia, and Ecuador. Her career highlights include Tosca, La flauta mágica, Faust, Don Giovanni, Transformations, Rusalka, Dido and Aeneas, Carmen, La traviata, Les Misérables, Spring Awakening, West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, and Luisa Fernanda. She was the music director for Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, the mariachi opera commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, with performances in Houston, Paris, San Diego, Phoenix, Fort Worth, El Paso, and Chicago, as well as the world premiere of the choral version in Quito, Ecuador. Most recently, she directed Ñomongeta, the first Guarani opera by Paraguayan composer Diego Sánchez Haase for Opera Hispánica and the Embassy of Paraguay, Don Giovanni for Opera Williamsburg, La tragédie de Carmen for Chautauqua Opera, and La traviata for Florida Grand Opera.

Opera Orlando

Roberta Emerson, stage director
Treemonisha (Scott Joplin, composer/librettist)

Opera Orlando will present an original production of Scott Joplin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Treemonisha at the Alexis and Jim Pugh Theater at Dr. Phillips Center. Local director Roberta Emerson will reimagine this work and contextualize it for Central Florida audiences in partnership with the Zora! Festival, Bethune-Cookman University, and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. The opera celebrates African American music and culture and depicts the struggle to break free from superstition and fear to pursue education and uplift the community — themes that are just as important to explore today as they were during Joplin’s time. Opera Orlando looks forward to presenting a work that truly reflects its diverse audience, with a score that weaves together elements of Black folk songs and dances, spirituals, and hints of ragtime. Treemonisha’s celebration of community will certainly be a jubilant feast for the eyes and ears as it makes its Orlando premiere in May 2025.

Roberta Emerson is a director, actor, producer, and teacher, as well as the director of new play development at Orlando Shakes. She is a graduate of both the University of Minnesota, with a B.F.A. in acting and theater management, and New York University, with an M.F.A. in acting. She has worked as an actor and director in regional theaters around the country; has done extensive voice-over, commercial, and film work; and has been a teaching artist both in the U.S. and Europe. Upcoming directing credits include Ain’t Misbehavin’ with Orlando Shakes and The Cherry Orchard with the University of Central Florida. She has also recently directed a production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for the Garden Theatre, a concert version of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the William Daniel Mills Theatre Company at Steinmetz Hall, and a production of Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too, August Wilson) for the Orlando Shakes.

Opera Steamboat

Amanda Berg Wilson, stage director
Welcome to the Madness (Leanna Kirchoff, composer; Rachel J. Peters, librettist)

Welcome to the Madness is a roaming vocal theater adventure about Charlotte Perry, Portia Mansfield, and the founding of the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Composer Leanna Kirchoff and librettist Rachel J. Peters were commissioned by Opera Steamboat, and the world premiere will take place in August 2024 at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp. This project is important to the local community and will include a series of engagement events with different community groups to help spread the word about the opera.

Amanda Berg Wilson is making her Opera Steamboat and opera stage directing debut with Welcome to the Madness. She is the co-founder and artistic director of The Catamounts, where she has directed 15 productions and received accolades and awards including the Henry Awards. Under her direction, The Catamounts have been the recipients of eight Westword Best of Denver awards, four True West Awards, 13 Colorado Theatre Guild nominations, and six Daily Camera Eye Awards, among others. She has doubled The Catamounts’ operating budget two and half times in just eight years. She was a finalist for the 2018 True West Theatre Person of the Year, was highlighted in Westword magazine as one of “100 Colorado Creatives,” and received a 2014 BCAA Theater Fellowship. Her work has been profiled in American Theatre magazine. She graduated cum laude with a B.A. in English and drama from Kenyon College in Ohio.

Resonance Works

Keturah Stickann, stage director
The Little Prince (Rachel Portman, composer; Nicholas Wright, librettist)

An aviator stranded in the desert encounters a youngster who has been traveling the universe in search of what is most important in life, learning truths about love, friendship, and the importance of seeing with the heart. This fall, Resonance Works presents the Pittsburgh premiere of Rachel Portman and Nicholas Wright’s modern masterpiece, The Little Prince, based on the beloved book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This new production created by acclaimed stage director Keturah Stickann in collaboration with conductor and Artistic and General Director Maria Sensi Sellner features 12-year-old America's Got Talent phenom Victory Brinker in the title role and internationally lauded baritone Daniel Teadt as the Pilot, alongside the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus and Resonance Chamber Orchestra.

Keturah Stickann’s directing and choreographic work has been seen in countless opera houses across the United States and Canada and internationally. A champion of new American opera, she has directed and choreographed multiple works by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, as well as works by Robert Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jennifer Higdon, Laura Kaminsky, and José “Pepe” Martínez. Recent productions include Norma (Palm Beach Opera), The Barber of Seville (San Diego Opera), Salome (Madison Opera), A Little Night Music (Arizona Opera), As One (Eugene Opera), Candide (Detroit Opera), It’s A Wonderful Life (San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera), Pelléas et Mélisande (West Edge Opera), Orfeo ed Euridice (Florida Grand Opera), The Mother of Us All (Chautauqua Opera), Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (Chautauqua Opera), Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera Colorado), Don Quichotte (San Diego Opera), and The Seven Deadly Sins and Pagliacci (Virginia Opera). Before becoming a director, Stickann was a classically trained dancer, performing in opera and concert dance around the country.


For more information on OPERA America, visit About Us.

For press inquiries, contact Press@operaamerica.org or 212.796.8628.