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Article Published: 01 Oct 2018

Leading the Way to Parity

Laura Kaminsky’s Some Light Emerges, Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up and Rachel J. Peters’ Rootabaga Country have some significant elements in common. All three works had their world premieres in the past year. And all of them were funded through OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers (OGFC) program. Founded five years ago with support from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, OGFC has to date awarded nearly $900,000 toward repertoire by female composers, with the aim of promoting gender equity and diversifying the works produced by opera companies. The program has yielded significant returns on its investment in works by women: On the horizon for the coming season are the premieres of Jeanine Tesori’s Blue and Odaline de la Martinez’s Slavery Opera Trilogy.

This year, OGFC, through its Commissioning Grants arm, is providing a total of $98,000 for commissions from five companies. Three of the composers represented — Jennifer Higdon, Mary Kouyoumdjian and Michi Wiancko — are first- time OGFC grantees. Kamala Sankaram, composer of two of the funded commissions, received a Discovery Grant in 2015 for Looking at You, which has now garnered a Commissioning Grant for Opera on Tap. (While Commissioning Grants of up to $50,000 are awarded to the producing organizations in support of commissions, Discovery Grants of up to $15,000, adjudicated separately, are bestowed on the composers themselves.)

2018 OGFC: Commissioning Grants

Opera Philadelphia
Ashes (working title)
Jennifer Higdon, composer
Jerre Dye, librettist

In Higdon’s first chamber opera, a woman claims to have incinerated masterpieces stolen by her son, in an effort to destroy evidence and clear his name. Based on a true story.

Beth Morrison Projects
Mary Kouyoumdjian, composer
Royce Vavrek, librettist

In this adaptation of Atom Egoyan’s 2008 film, a high-school writing assignment triggers viral hysteria

Opera on Tap
Looking at You
Kamala Sankaram, composer
Rob Handel, librettist

This techno-noir music-theater piece confronts the issue of privacy in today’s digitized society. Set inside a corporate headquarters — and integrating data mined from the audience in real-time — it tells a story of love and espionage: Edward Snowden meets Casablanca.

Washington National Opera
Taking Up Serpents
Kamala Sankaram, composer
Jerre Dye, librettist

This hourlong work explores the controversial world of religious snake-handling. When a fire-and-brimstone preacher is dangerously bitten by one of his own snakes, his estranged daughter is forced to return home and confront her troubled upbringing.

On Site Opera
Lady Murasaki and the Tale of Genji (working title)*
Michi Wiancko, composer
Deborah Brevoort, librettist

This one-act, family-friendly opera, to be staged in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Astor Court, is inspired by The Tale of Genji, an 11th-century novel written by a lady-in-waiting in Japan’s imperial court.

*Co-commissioned and developed by On Site Opera, MetLiveArts and American Lyric Theater.