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Article Published: 28 Jan 2021

Second (and Third) Chances

In the late 1990s and early 2000s — a period when contemporary operas were more likely to get premieres than further productions — OA’s Next Stage Grants supported new productions of such notable recent works as Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, Philip Glass’ Akhnaten, and Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking. Now, after a hiatus of nearly two decades, the program is returning, with the aim of not only helping underperformed works gain a foothold, but of providing opportunities for creators to edit and refine their works. Companies may apply for up to half of production costs, as well as supplemental support for score, libretto, or orchestration revisions.

In December, the first round of the relaunched Next Stage Grants provided $270,000 to eight opera companies, selected by an independent adjudication panel from a pool of 35 applicants. The funded productions span more four decades of opera creation — from the 1976 rarity The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe, by Dominick Argento and Charles M. Nolte, to Lembit Beecher and Hannah Moscovitch’s 2018 Sky on Swings.

Next Stage Grants have been revived thanks to funding from Gene Kaufman, Terry Eder-Kaufman, and New Vision for NYC Opera, as well as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Next Stage Grants 2021

Anchorage Opera
Brian Current, composer
Marie Clements, librettist

Missing, a 2017 chamber opera in English and Gitksan, sheds light on the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in North America. In conjunction with its production, Anchorage Opera will collaborate with Alaskan Native groups, tribal governments, elected officials, law enforcement, and social service agencies on projects that raise awareness of this ongoing tragedy.

El Paso Opera
Robert Xavier Rodriguez, composer
Hilary Blecher and
Migdalia Cruz, librettists

In 2022, El Paso Opera will present Frida, the 1991 chamber opera about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Performed in Spanish and English, the piece depicts key moments of Kahlo’s turbulent life, along with the creative process behind her vividly surrealistic works.

IN Series
I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky
John Adams, composer
June Jordan, librettist

Adams and Jordan’s 1995 opera focuses on the lives of seven young adults in South-Central Los Angeles before and after the earthquake that shook the city in 1994. Their intertwined stories raise issues of race, immigration, sexual identity, and police violence. Described by Adams as a “songplay,” the work is structured as a series of songs fusing American popular music with the composer’s minimalist idiom.

Knoxville Opera
Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom
Nkeiru Okoye, composer and librettist

Knoxville Opera will present the first mounting of Okoye’s opera since its 2014 premiere. Based on recent biographies, the work charts Tubman’s life from childhood to marriage to her role as a conductor of the Underground Railroad. The company will buttress the production with education and community events exploring themes of social justice, freedom, and equality.

Michigan Opera Theatre
X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X
Anthony Davis, composer
Thulani Davis, librettist

Michigan Opera Theatre will present the second full production of X since its 1986 premiere at New York City Opera. The opera features a jazz ensemble embedded in the orchestra and a large, mostly Black cast. MOT is reviving this timely work with the goal of inspiring the field to present major works on the Black experience.

Odyssey Opera
The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe
Dominick Argento, composer
Charles M. Nolte, librettist

Odyssey Opera will present the Boston premiere of this 1976 rarity, which has been absent from North American opera houses for the entire 21st century. The opera portrays Poe, ill with fever and on an alcoholic binge, embarking on a hallucinatory voyage of self-discovery.

Opera Parallèle
Harvey Milk
Stewart Wallace, composer
Michael Korie, librettist

In 2022, Opera Parallèle will present a reimagined chamber version of the 1995 Harvey Milk. The original version has been shortened from three to two acts, several minor characters have been eliminated, and the score has been reorchestrated for a chamber ensemble of 27, making the piece, which premiered at Houston Grand Opera, appropriate for smaller companies.

Opera Saratoga
Sky on Swings
Lembit Beecher, composer
Hannah Moscovitch, librettist

For its 2022 festival season, Opera Saratoga will present a new production Sky on Swings, providing the first revival of the work since its 2018 premiere at Opera Philadelphia. The chamber opera explores the experiences of two women who are progressing through different stages of Alzheimer’s disease.