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New Works THE INVESTMENT, DAUGHTERS OF THE BLOODY DUKE and AN AMERICAN MAN Set for WNO's 2014-15 American Opera Initiative

Related: WNO, Washington National Opera, American Opera Initiative, THE INVESTMENT, DAUGHTERS OF THE BLOODY DUKE, AN AMERICAN MAN
New Works THE INVESTMENT, DAUGHTERS OF THE BLOODY DUKE and AN AMERICAN MAN Set for WNO's 2014-15 American Opera Initiative

Washington National Opera (WNO) today announced details for the third season of the American Opera Initiative, its comprehensive commissioning program that brings contemporary American stories to the stage while fostering the talents of rising American composers and librettists. Three teams of new opera composers and librettists-John Liberatore and Niloufar Talebi, Jake Runestad and David Johnston, and Rene Orth and Jason Kim-will premiere new 20-minute operas, each based on a contemporary American story, in a semi-staged concert performance on November 21, 2014 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

"This season's composers and librettists have powerful and personal stories to tell, and their works stay true to the mission of the American Opera Initiative -- to tell all kinds of new American stories through music," said WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. "I'm proud that the program is continuing to attract gifted artists, and I look forward to working with them in the coming months."

The composer/librettist teams will collaborate on their works with distinguished mentors who have each enjoyed professional success with new American operas: composer Jake Heggie (WNO's Moby-Dick), librettist Mark Campbell (Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music), and conductor Anne Manson (Manitoba Chamber Orchestra). The composers and librettists have been working with these mentors and advisors throughout the creative process. The next round of workshops will be held in September.

Michael Heaston is the program director of the American Opera Initiative and WNO's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. "The third season of the American Opera Initiative includes a diverse slate of new works that will both entertain and challenge our audiences," he said. "Our young artists will have the extraordinary opportunity to work with living composers and librettists and our incredible team of mentors on the creation of new works."

Full casting for the three 20-minute operas, featuring members of WNO's Domingo- Cafritz Young Artist Program and other guest artists, will be announced soon. Tickets for the November 21 presentation are $15 and are on sale now.

As previously announced, Penny, an hour-long opera by composer Douglas Pew and librettist Dara Weinberg, will receive its world-premiere production under the auspices of the American Opera Initiative January 23-24, 2015 in the Terrace Theater. Pew and Weinberg are returning alumni of the program; their 20-minute work A Game of Hearts had its world premiere during the program's first season in November 2012. Penny is an original story developed by Weinberg about a woman living with a disability who discovers her voice and her talent for music, and the ensuing conflict with her family as she grows more independent. Penny will be conducted by Anne Manson and directed by Alan Paul, the Associate Director of Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company.

New 20-minute operas expand the American operatic repertory

The three original 20-minute operas presented in a semi-staged concert performance on November 21 will each highlight a very different aspect of American life and culture. These new works will be presented with accompaniment by a chamber orchestra conducted by Anne Manson and will be performed in English. Following the performance, there will be a Q&A session with the artists and creative team.

The Investment

Music by John Liberatore Libretto by Niloufar Talebi

The Mohems are an Iranian-American couple who enjoy an affluent life in Silicon Valley because of Mr. Mohem's success in venture capitalism. The two have recently purchased a large painting by Roxana Lieber, an emerging young artist they invite to lunch at their mansion. While discussing the painting, Roxana reveals her subject behind what appears to be just an abstract landscape -- one that offends Mr. Mohem. As dormant differences erupt between Mr. and Mrs. Mohem, Roxana struggles with her own feelings about art and finds an unlikely sympathizer in the Mohems' newly immigrated maid.

Daughters of the Bloody Duke

Music by Jake Runestad Libretto by David Johnston

Daughters of the Bloody Duke is a dark comedic one-act opera, in which Margot, the young daughter of the Bloody Duke of Ravenswood, must choose between her growing love for her new husband and the demands of her revenge-crazed family.

An American Man

Music by Rene Orth Libretto by Jason Kim

Wyatt Adams, America's rising political star, returns home for his estranged father's funeral. But when he reveals his hidden motive-to erase all record of his father's troublesome past-things begin to get complicated. Caught between his political ambitions and his desire to do the right thing, Wyatt must figure out what truly matters to him.

Composers and librettists in the 2014-2015 season of the American Opera Initiative

John Liberatore (composer, The Investment) is a composer and pianist living in southern New York State. His music has been performed at venues around the world, including the International Viola Congress, Carnegie's Weill Hall, the Hindemith Music Centre, the American Cultural Institute of Peru, and the Four Seasons Centre of Toronto. Other recent engagements include performances with Dinosaur Annex, the Cleveland Contemporary Players, the Cuong Vu Trio, and the Finnish chamber ensemble Trio Ramifications. On a grant from the Presser Foundation, he spent the summer of 2012 in Tokyo, Japan, studying with Jo Kondo, an experience and mentorship which made an indelible impression on his music. Other recognitions include a fellowship from the Tanglewood Music Center in 2011, two ASCAP Morton Gould Awards, the Brian Israel Prize (first place), and invitations from the I-Park Artist's Enclave, the Brush Creek Arts Foundation, the MusicX Festival, and the Bowdoin Music Festival. In the fall of 2013, he joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. He holds degrees from Syracuse University and the Eastman School of Music.

Niloufar Talebi (librettist, The Investment) is a writer, award-winning translator, and theater artist. She is the editor/translator of BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World (North Atlantic Books, 2008), and creator/performer of multimedia works including Four Springs (2004), Midnight Approaches (2006), ICARUS/RISE (2007), The Persian Rite of Spring (2010), and everyonedies (2012). Her libretti include Atash Sorushan (Fire Angels) (2011/2014), a song cycle with composer Mark Grey co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Cal Performances, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; The Disinherited (2014), a one-act opera with composer Clarice Assad as Resident Artist with the American Lyric Theater; and Epiphany (2015), a requiem with composer Paola Prestini and the Young People's Chorus of New York City. She is currently developing a libretto for the Los Angeles Children's Chorus (Spring 2015).

Award-winning composer Jake Runestad (composer, Daughters of the Bloody Duke) has received commissions and performances from leading ensembles and organizations such as the Netherlands Radio Choir, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Seraphic Fire, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Virginia Arts Festival, the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Craig Hella Johnson and the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble, Spire Chamber Ensemble, and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. Dubbed a "choral rockstar" by American Public Media, he is one of the most frequently performed composers of his generation. He holds a master's degree in composition from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts. Prior to graduate school, he studied extensively with acclaimed composer Libby Larsen. Born in 1986 and a native of Rockford, Illinois, he currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His music is published by Boosey & Hawkes and JR Music.

The work of David Johnston (librettist, Daughters of the Bloody Duke) has been seen in New York with Blue Coyote Theater Group, including Coney, Conversations on Russian Literature (also Germany), a new adaptation of The Oresteia (Time Out Best of 2007), and Busted Jesus Comix (also London, Los Angeles, and Capital Fringe Festival in Washington). Regional credits include The George Place (Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater). Projects with director Kevin Newbury include Candy & Dorothy (GLAAD winner 2006, Wellfleet Harbor), The Eumenides and the short film Monsura is Waiting. Publications include Leaving Tangier (Samuel French), A Funeral Home in Brooklyn (Smith & Kraus), and A Number on the Roman Calendar (Applause Theatrebooks). Playwriting awards: Theater Oxford, Berrilla Kerr Foundation Grant, Arch & Bruce Brown Foundation. Member: Actors' Equity, Dramatists Guild, Charles Maryan's Playwrights/Directors Workshop, BMI Librettist Workshop, and Resident Artist with American Lyric Theater. Upcoming projects include ALT's workshop of his one-act opera with composer Jeff Smith, Why is Eartha Kitt Trying to Kill Me?

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Rene Orth (composer, An American Man) is a composer, musician, and audio engineer. She has an interest in seamlessly combining electronic and acoustic music and has a focus on dramatic narrative form, with a keen sensitivity to color in orchestration. Recent and upcoming projects include commissions from the Philadelphia Fringe Festival and the Rock School of Dance. Current and past collaborations include projects with librettists Mark Campbell and Jason Kim, choreographers Georg Rieschl and Justin Allen, and poets Jeanne Minahan and Julia Bloch. Her music has been performed by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, the Dover Quartet, the Fifth House Ensemble, and the University of Louisville University Chorus. In 2014, she held residencies at the artist colonies Yaddo and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. She participated in the Lake Champlain Music Festival (2013), Fresh Inc Festival (2013), and Atlantic Music Festival (2012), and was a recipient of a Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment Grant. She currently holds the Milton L. Rock Composition Fellowship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and works with Jennifer Higdon. She earned an M.M. in Music Composition at the University of Louisville as a Moritz von Bomhard Fellow and holds degrees from MediaTech Institute and Rhodes College.


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by Richard Sasanow