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Article Published: 29 Jan 2021

An IDEA for Achieving Balance

While the ranks of composers and librettists have in recent years grown more diverse, there remains a pressing need for broader representation of BIPOC composers and librettists so that they can bring their viewpoints to the opera stage. To help redress the imbalance, OPERA America founded two major initiatives to amplify the voices of BIPOC creators: IDEA Opera Grants, established in 2019 to fund the development of new operas, and the recently launched IDEA Opera Residencies, which support new-to-opera composers and librettists as they enter the opera field. (IDEA denotes “inclusion, diversity, equity, and access.”)

The inaugural IDEA Opera Resident Artists, who were selected this fall by an independent panel, are composers Laura Jobin-Acosta and Tamar-kali Brown and librettist J. Mae Barizo. In accordance with the program’s design, all are early-career artists from the New York City area who have distinguished themselves in other genres and wish to pursue opera for the first time. Each artist will be given a full-year residency in 2021 at OA’s National Opera Center, as part of a $22,500 package that includes direct grants for the exploration of opera as an artistic medium, career and promotional support, and recording services and facility rentals. They will also receive mentorship from leaders in the field and will be introduced to industry stakeholder via digital platforms and OA convenings.

“By recognizing new American composers and librettists of color and supporting their development, we help enrich the art form with new creative voices,” says Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “Ultimately, opera’s stages must reflect the diversity of this nation.”

IDEA Opera Residences are supported by the Katherine S. and Axel G. Rosin Fund of The Scherman Foundation.

2021 IDEA Opera Resident Artists

Laura Jobin-Acosta

Laura Jobin-Acosta recently graduated with her master’s degree in classical composition from SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music, where she studied with Laura Kaminsky and Kamala Sankaram. After a career as a soprano, Jobin-Acosta turned to composition at the Walden School’s 2017 Creative Musicians Retreat, where she wrote a piece for the Mivos Quartet. While in graduate school, she was commissioned to compose The Seven Last Words of Christ for the Parish of Calvary-St. George’s in Manhattan. She continues to perform as a singer and often appears in new works.

J. Mae Barizo

Poet, critic, and performer J. Mae Barizo is the author of The Cumulus Effect, a 2015 collection of her poetry, and her work has appeared in Poetry, AGNI, Bookforum, Boston Review, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. A classically trained musician and champion of cross-genre work, Barizo has collaborated recently on projects with with Salman Rushdie, Rob Moose, and the American String Quartet. Her song cycle Lunar Songs, written with composer Jessie Montgomery and commissioned for the Leonard Bernstein centennial, was premiered in 2019 by Mellissa Hughes and the Metropolis Ensemble. Barizo teaches cross-genre collaboration at the New School and Pratt Institute.

Tamar-kali Brown

Tamar-kali Brown, whose sound marries the classical music of her Catholic upbringing with post-punk sensibilities, composes and arranges works for her string sextet, the Psychochamber Ensemble. In 2017, her first film score, for the Oscar-nominated Mudbound, garnered her the World Soundtrack Award for Discovery of the Year. Brown has gone on to score four more films, while also composing orchestral pieces. Her current projects include Demon Fruit, a theatrical concert work for The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and My Morning Cameo, a solo EP of torch songs. Brown released her debut album, Black Bottom, in 2010.