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Article Published: 01 Oct 2019

Female Composers Stride Ahead

The year 2019 has seen several noteworthy milestones for OA’s Opera Grants for Female Composers (OGFC) program: The total amount awarded by the program has surpassed the $1 million mark; Ellen Reid’s p r i s m (OGFC Commissioning Grant, 2015) won the Pulitzer Prize for music; and for the third straight year, Laura Kaminsky’s As One (OGFC Discovery Grant, 2014) remained the most-produced contemporary opera in the U.S. This year, OGFC is providing a total of $100,000 for commissions from six female composers. Three of the composers represented — Du Yun, Caroline Shaw and Rhiannon Giddens — are first-time OGFC grantees, while the other three composers have all previously received Discovery Grants. (While Commissioning Grants of up to $50,000 are awarded to producing organizations in support of commissions, Discovery Grants of up to $15,000, adjudicated separately, are bestowed on the composers themselves.)

Founded six years ago with support from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, OGFC has to date awarded 75 grants, totaling $1.1 million, toward repertoire by female composers, with an aim of promoting gender equity and diversifying the works produced by opera companies.

2019 OGFC: Commissioning Grants

Sweet Land
Du Yun and Raven Chacon, composers
Douglas Kearney and Aja Couchois Duncan, librettists
Comprised of reimagined narratives highlighting the violence of the Euro¬pean conquest of America, this opera is slated for a Yuval Sharon production.

Title to be announced
Caroline Shaw, composer
Sarah Kay, librettist
This one-act opera investigates themes of loneliness and isolation in contempo¬rary society. It will be presented along¬side two additional one-act commissions in Lyric’s 2021–2022 season.

Stone Arch: A Walking Opera
Mary Ellen Childs, composer and librettist
An interactive, a cappella work, this opera will feature 100 singers perform¬ing on the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge and National Historic Engineering Landmark that spans the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

Ten Days in a Madhouse
Rene Orth, composer
Hannah Moscovitch, librettist
A co-commission with Tapestry Opera, this chamber opera tells the story of the crusading 19th-century reporter Nellie Bly, who feigned insanity to uncover abuses in a women’s asylum.

Leanna Kirchoff, composer
Rachel Peters, librettist
In a one-act comic fantasia, the legendary Steamboat Springs auctioneer Cookie Lockhart sells off her own family belongings.

Title to be announced
Rhiannon Giddens, composer and librettist
The opera is based on the autobiography of Omar ibn Said, a Muslim scholar who was captured in present-day Senegal in 1807 and sold into slavery in Charleston, South Carolina. It will be premiered at Spoleto’s 2020 festival.

This article was published in the Fall 2019 issue of Opera America Magazine.