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Article Published: 28 Mar 2023

Fresh Collaborations

Director Emily Wells launched her career managing regional and touring Broadway productions and has since moved on to working at larger venues like Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, Florida, and Circuit Playhouse in Memphis, Tennessee. In March 2023, she made the jump from theater to opera in a big way, helming Houston Grand Opera’s production of Another City (Stephanie Fleischman, libretto; Jeremy Howard Beck, music).

“This will be my first time directing an opera, and the highest profile company for which I have directed,” notes Wells, who has worked at HGO as a producer for previous productions.

Houston Grand Opera is one of nine U.S. opera companies to receive funding from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors program this year, a program that incentivizes companies to hire women in leadership roles. Currently, OPERA America estimates that women make up fewer than 30 percent of directors and less than 15 percent of conductors working on American opera productions each year. The latest cycle of grants has provided a total of $34,450 to companies including Boston Baroque, LA Opera, Opera Birmingham, and others, and will cover up to 50% of the artists’ contract fees.

Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors are supported by the Marineau Family Foundation. 


Boston Baroque
Mo Zhou, stage director
Iphigénie en Tauride (Gluck/Guillard)
Zhou’s directing career spans opera, theater, dance, and film. She has worked on the directing staffs of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera and is currently an assistant professor in University of Michigan’s voice department.

Heartbeat Opera
Shadi G., stage director
Tosca (Puccini/ Illica/Giacosa)
Shadi G. is an Iran-born, New York City-based theater and film director, choreographer, and writer. She has directed productions for Beth Morrison Projects, HERE, SUNY Purchase, and NYU Tisch, among others.

Tara Ahmadinejad, stage director
(morning//mourning) (Gelsey Bell)
Ahmadinejad has directed and co-authored genre-defying live art for theaters, galleries, and digital spaces, including collaborations on virtual reality and augmented reality projects with the LA-based game developer Tender Claws.

Houston Grand Opera
Emily Wells, stage director
Another City (Jeremy Howard Beck/ Stephanie Fleischman)
Wells is a theater director, creative producer, and educator who serves as artistic director of The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio. At Houston Grand Opera, she has previously produced Some Light Emerges, the Starr Cross’d web series, the off-site productions of Das Barbecü and Glory Denied, and a variety of community programs.

LA Opera
Leah Hausman, stage director
Pelléas et Mélisande (Debussy/Maeterlinck) As a director, choreographer, and movement director, Hausmann has worked with major houses around the world, including English National Opera, Vienna State Opera, La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and San Francisco Opera. At Scottish Opera, she served as movement director for the David McVicar production of Pelléas et Mélisande that she will now direct at LA Opera.

Opera Baltimore and Opera Delaware
Kaley Karis Smith, stage director
La traviata (Verdi/Piave)
Smith most recently served as assistant director for Werther, La traviata, and El Milagro del Recuerdo at Houston Grand Opera. Before that, she was the resident artist stage director at Pittsburgh Opera, where she directed Soldier Songs and The Rose Elf and assistant directed the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone and Stephanie Fleischmann’s In a Grove.

Opera Birmingham
Aija Penix, stage director
dwb (driving while black) (Susan Kander/Roberta Gumbel)
Penix combines her experience as vocalist, actor, producer, and director to tell stories often focusing on the human experience across the African Diaspora. She is the co-founder and chief executive artistic partner of the Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Collective and a resident artist at Birmingham Children’s Theatre.

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera
Stephanie Rhodes Russell, conductor
La fille du régiment (Donizetti/Vernoy de Saint- Georges/Bayard)
This season, Russell leads Il barbiere di Siviglia at Austin Opera, Le nozze di Figaro at Madison Opera, The Knock at Cincinnati Opera, and Don Giovanni at Wolf Trap Opera. She is an alum of the Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute, the Houston Grand Opera Studio, and Merola Opera Program, and she was a conducting fellow at Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra from 2019 to 2021.

This article was published in the Spring 2023 issue of Opera America Magazine.