OPERA America Reveals Winners of the 2023 Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera

The awards recognize the best work created for digital platforms by individual producers and organizations in the United States and Canada, in four categories.

By: Dec. 06, 2023
OPERA America Reveals Winners of the 2023 Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera

OPERA America has revealed the winners of the 2023 Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera. The awards recognize the best work created for digital platforms by individual producers and organizations in the United States and Canada, in four categories: Artistic Creation, Education/Enrichment Materials, University/Conservatory Projects, and Noteworthy Projects.

 

The 2023 winners are:

 

  • Svadba
    Produced by Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Bradley Vernatter, Jessica Johnson Brock, David B. Devan, Anderson Nunnelley, Hannah Shepard
    Category: Artistic Creation

 

  • In Song
    Produced by Lumahai Productions, San Francisco Opera, Matthew Shilvock, Elena Park, Gregory Henkel, Nicole Potter, Molly McBride
    Category: Education/Enrichment Materials

 

  • Operas [in Place]
    Produced by Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Cleveland Opera Theater, On Site Opera
    Category: University/Conservatory Projects

 

  • Jess
    Produced by Rebecca Gray, Rachel Gray
    Category: Noteworthy Projects

 

  • Whiteness: Part One
    Produced by Paul Pinto, Kameron Neal, CultureHub
    Category: Noteworthy Projects

 

The winners were selected from 16 finalists identified by expert judges from among the nearly 70 submissions. Audiences are invited to watch the winning projects, as well as all finalist projects, at operaamerica.org/DigitalAwards. Videos are available for a limited time: through March 4, 2024, for all finalists, and through June 4, 2024, for all winners.

 

The Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera are made possible by a generous and deeply appreciated grant from The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, with special gratitude to foundation trustees, Joe Erdman and Melissa Young.

 

“The second annual Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera celebrate the ongoing learning and creativity of digital opera,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America. “None of us knew for sure if the digital opera momentum of the pandemic would continue once theaters reopened, but the variety and ingenuity of submissions to the second year of the program demonstrate that artists and producers are still innovating. We are thrilled to recognize five winners whose work represents the best in this medium.”

 

OPERA America received applications from 47 organizations and 22 individuals for the second annual awards, representing work from across the United States and Canada. The 2023 finalists were:

 

Artistic Creation

· BEYOND a film by Marina Viotti | Marina Viotti, Guillaume Gamand, Avinarts; The Dallas Opera

· The First Bluebird in the Morning | LA Opera

· Identity: A Song Cycle | Against the Grain Theatre, Joel Ivany, Robin Whiffen, Jason Charters, Liam Romalis

· In a Grove world premiere video broadcast | Pittsburgh Opera, Christopher Cerrone, Stephanie Fleischmann, RLG Creations, Evan Chapman, Mike Tierney, Kristian Tchetchko, Mary Birnbaum

· Medusa’s Children | Produced by OperaQ

· Handel: Orlando | the Baroque opera performed in a New York City community garden | Opera Praktikos, H. Paul Moon, Opera Essentia

· Svadba | Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Bradley Vernatter, Jessica Johnson Brock, David B. Devan, Anderson Nunnelley, Hannah Shepard*

 

Education/Enrichment Materials

· Date with the Divas (Vol. 2) | Opera Sustenida

· In Song | Lumahai Productions, San Francisco Opera, Matthew Shilvock, Elena Park, Gregory Henkel, Nicole Potter, Molly McBride*

· Playground Opera's Hansel and Gretel | Dennis Whitehead Darling, Tanya Jones, Victoria Davis, Anne Hiatt, David Gordon, Ramona Ponce, Mila Henry, Daniel Stuart Nelson, and Giannina Gutierrez

 

University/Conservatory Projects

· Operas [in Place] | Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Cleveland Opera Theater, On Site Opera*

· Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas: A Cinematic Opera | Cleveland Institute of Music, Dean Southern, Alexander E. Tennant, Eric S. Vaughan

 

Noteworthy Projects

· BOUND | Against the Grain Theatre, Joel Ivany, Robin Whiffen

· Jess | Rebecca Gray, Rachel Gray*

· THE WEB OPERA | Michael Roth

· Whiteness: Part One | Paul Pinto, Kameron Neal, CultureHub*

 

*Indicates category winners

See below for project descriptions.

 

 

 

The awards were selected by a jury of independent experts including:

 

  • Jonathan Allen, recording producer
  • Rena Butler, choreographer and dance artist
  • Kiera Duffy, soprano; associate professor of voice, Eastman School of Music
  • Joshua Lubensky, visual and video artist
  • Jeremy Robins, filmmaker; director, Ibis Productions Inc.
  • Renate Rohlfing, associate professor, Berklee College of Music
  • Mark Shapiro, conductor
  • Davóne Tines, bass-baritone
  • Mo Zhou, stage director

 

For more information about OPERA America’s grant and award programs, visit operaamerica.org/Grants.

 

 

ABOUT THE WINNERS
 

Visit operaamerica.org/DigitalAwards for full producer biographies.

 

Svadba

Produced by Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Bradley Vernatter, Jessica Johnson Brock, David B. Devan, Anderson Nunnelley, Hannah Shepard

Winner: Artistic Creation

 

Featuring an all-female cast and creative team, Svadba, by Ana Sokolović, is an a cappella chamber opera that explores themes of transition, telling the story of a young bride preparing for her new life as a married woman. The work dramatizes the traditions, rituals, and celebrations of the young woman and her gathering of close friends. This cinematized production reengages with the work in a multidisciplinary interpretation, telling a visual story through dance and eye-catching cinematography, enhanced by the contemporary tour-de-force score that combines operatic and Balkan folk vocal techniques to create a vivid, onomatopoeic sound world. Director Shura Baryshnikov stays true to the original Serbian folklore and language, enhanced by conductor Daniela Candillari’s Serbian background, while exploring the work through a larger lens — reflecting the variety of personal identities among the diverse all-female cast and creative team to tell a story that explores a deeply rooted feminine perspective.

 

Jess

Produced by Rebecca Gray, Rachel Gray

Winner: Noteworthy Projects

 

An experimental fusion of opera and visual arts, Jess explores the impact of stroke and disability and the restorative power of friendship and imagination. A collaboration between composer/singer Rebecca Gray and visual artist/writer Rachel Gray, Jess is an adaptation of a graphic novel written by Rachel Gray about her friend Jessie, and it blends stop-motion animation, drawings, and footage to convey the earth-shattering experiences of joy, grief, and loss of cognitive and physical function. It was developed as part of Pacific Opera Victoria’s Civic Engagement Program, which aims to support the careers of emerging singers who are engaged in civic practice and have a self-directed, multi-disciplinary vision for operatic storytelling.

 

Whiteness: Part One

Produced by Paul Pinto, Kameron Neal, CultureHub

Winner: Noteworthy Projects

 

This immersive music video cantata surrounds the viewer in a white void while a chorus of floating heads muse (in 4-40-part harmony) on privilege, appropriation, and the history (or plague) of “Whiteness” in the U.S.A. Written and performed by Paul Pinto, Whiteness: Part One is part of a series of mixed-media works setting the author’s maddening inner thoughts as a mixed-race American (visibly brown, and invisibly trying to not be so White) as a series of chants, rants, and micro-pop songs, set to a whirling video directed by Kameron Neal.

 

In Song

Produced by Lumahai Productions, San Francisco Opera, Matthew Shilvock, Elena Park, Gregory Henkel, Nicole Potter, Molly McBride
Winner: Education/Enrichment Materials

 

In Song, created by San Francisco Opera (SFO) and Lumahai Productions, is a series of eight intimate video portraits featuring remarkable artists (Amina Edris, Jamie Barton, J’Nai Bridges, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Daniela Mack, Pene Pati, Pretty Yende, and Meigui Zhang) who draw us into distinctive spheres through stories and song — from classical to Zulu, spirituals, Samoan and Egyptian songs, and mariachi music. Launched in March 2021, it invites us into singers’ worlds as they share their personal and musical journeys, and how they express themselves through deep connections to song. 

 

Shot on location in cities from Buenos Aires to New York City to Cape Town and Cairo, each In Song features several visually arresting musical performances, with scenes illuminating diverse cultural traditions and roots. The series won the 2022 Webby People’s Voice Award for Best Music Video Series and Channel (in addition to being nominated for the 2022 Webby Award in that competitive category). Shared for free across SFO’s media channels, the ongoing series appeals not only to classical music fans, but to people from around the world who respond to extraordinary performers of music, beyond genres and borders.

 

Operas [in Place]

Produced by Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Cleveland Opera Theater, On Site Opera

Winner: University/Conservatory Projects

 

Operas [in Place] — a virtual festival of micro-operas for our time — was produced by Baldwin Wallace Conservatory in collaboration with Cleveland Opera Theater and On Site Opera.

 

These nine new micro-operas were commissioned specifically for Baldwin Wallace voice performance students and composed with special attention to the rehearsal and performance parameters of university-mandated COVID-19 protocols and social distancing. This project was rehearsed and performed in a manner that was safe for the students and audience and responsive to the global situation. Operas [in Place] was produced by an award-winning design and production team and created by renowned composers and librettists including internationally recognized artists whose work is performed by the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Washington National Opera, and other top opera companies around the world.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE FINALISTS

Visit operaamerica.org/DigitalAwards for full producer biographies.

 

BEYOND a film by Marina Viotti

Produced by Marina Viotti, Guillaume Gamand, Avinarts; The Dallas Opera

Finalist: Artistic Creation

 

Immerse yourself in the world of mezzo-soprano Marina Viotti as you follow several “crème de la crème” artists creating a concert together, from brainstorming on day one to rehearsals, meetings, costumes, location, budget, and showtime. BEYOND shares the message that music is what makes us go beyond musical, cultural, mental, or social borders. Performing pieces arranged by Marina Viotti and Gabriel Bianco, the artists show their audience how art creates a universal language that can build bridges and reunite humanity.

 

The First Bluebird in the Morning

Produced by LA Opera

Finalist: Artistic Creation

 

The First Bluebird in the Morning is composer Carlos Simon’s newly commissioned setting of verses by Sandra Seaton — sobering, heartfelt, and moving. Created by an all-Black artistic team, it portrays an incarcerated man’s thoughts on the day before his release. Shot in stunning black and white, the film is directed and choreographed by Jamar Roberts. In a breathtaking performance, solo dancer Lloyd Knight, a principal dancer for the Martha Graham Dance Company, brings life and movement to the piece in combination with the voice of tenor Joshua Blue (who made his mainstage LA Opera debut in 2022 in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion).

 

Identity: A Song Cycle

Produced by Against the Grain Theatre, Joel Ivany, Robin Whiffen, Jason Charters, and Liam Romalis

Finalist: Artistic Creation

 

Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) proudly presents Identity: A Song Cycle, a powerfully intimate filmed vocal work centered on the universal themes of individuality, alienation, and belonging. Starring acclaimed baritone Elliot Madore, the work features original music and poetry by Dinuk Wijeratne and Shauntay Grant and is directed by multi-award-winning AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany. 

 

This cinematic work-in-progress is a song cycle based on Madore’s personal journey exploring and embracing his multiple and shifting identities. Identity: A Song Cycle transforms Madore’s intimate struggles into a contemporary performance, interspersed with poignant interviews of the singer and infused with original Canadian poetry. The piece aligns with AtG’s mission to create boundary-breaking, genre-defying vocal works and films staged in surprising locations, emphasizing innovative storytelling and memorable artistic experiences.

 

In a Grove world premiere video broadcast

Produced by Pittsburgh Opera. Music by Christopher Cerrone. Libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann. Video recording by RLG Creations. Video editing by Evan Chapman. Audio editing by Mike Tierney. Live audio mix by Kristian Tchetchko. Directed by Mary Birnbaum.

Finalist: Artistic Creation

 

On February 19, 2022, Pittsburgh Opera performed the world-premiere performance of In a Grove to a capacity crowd at the Bitz Opera Factory. The 56-minute opera, which had music by Christopher Cerrone and a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann, was based on the short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, which in turn inspired Kurosawa’s renowned film Rashomon. The six-performance run exceeded ticket goals and garnered rave reviews from local, regional, and national media outlets. Wanting to make the production available to interested patrons outside the greater Pittsburgh area, Pittsburgh Opera produced a multi-camera video of the final dress rehearsal and unveiled it as a limited-time YouTube Premiere on May 15, 2022. Pittsburgh Opera did not put the video behind a paywall, as the company wanted it to be accessible to as many viewers as possible. The premiere drew over 1,000 views; of those that were geographically identifiable, almost 90% were out-of-market. The video is still public, which is how Pittsburgh Opera intends to keep it.

 

Medusa’s Children

Produced by OperaQ

Finalist: Artistic Creation

 

OperaQ’s 2022 Medusa’s Children is a new chamber opera with text by Charlie Petch (Mel Malarkey, Daughter of Geppetto, Why I Was Late) and music by Colin McMahon (La Maupin). Directed by Lauren Halasz, Medusa’s Children explores themes of family, loss, sexual violence, and toxic masculinity through a trans and queer lens, drawing on the aftermath of the Medusa myth to tell a story at once dark, tender, and whimsical. The production was filmed by Coffeeshop Creative in September 2021 and released digitally in June 2022.

 

Handel: Orlando | the Baroque opera performed in a New York City community garden

Produced by Opera Praktikos, H. Paul Moon, Opera Essentia

Finalist: Artistic Creation

 

This Baroque opera by G.F. Handel was set in a community garden on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to maintain responsible performing practices during the three-year wave of the global pandemic. It was an idea both historic and innovative while the opera world responded to the great shifts occurring in society. Looking centuries back, referencing historic ways of presenting opera to the public, Orlando became an organic experience that felt simultaneously old and new — captured on film in a deeply immersive way as if the viewer is an embedded member of the audience. Setting this work in a community garden allowed adaptable seating for ease of mobility and now, with a filmed version readily available, the Orlando experience can be accessed around the world for free, just like the free opera in the garden was offered in New York City.

 

BOUND

Produced by Against the Grain Theatre, Joel Ivany, Robin Whiffen

Finalist: Noteworthy Projects

 

“How welcoming are we as a country, as a city, as a community?” These questions are posed in the contemporary hybrid opera-film BOUND presented by Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) in association with Crow’s Theatre and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

 

BOUND’s libretto is written by Joel Ivany, whose lyrics explore ripped-from-the-headlines social issues interwoven with interviews featuring four Canadian citizens of diverse backgrounds who have each had challenging — and remarkably different — journeys finding their place and voice in Canada. BOUND is about the transformational experiences of four storytellers (represented in the film by musical avatars), and these non-fiction narratives undergo their own transformation in the film — shape-shifting from interview segments exploring their lived experiences into song. The power and emotion of these vocals propel BOUND, guided by composer Kevin Lau, allowing opera fans to recognize a number of segments from Handel’s operas and oratorios. 

 

THE WEB OPERA

Produced by Michael Roth

Finalist: Noteworthy Projects

 

With THE WEB OPERA, composer Michael Roth has assembled a team of progressive artists to create a groundbreaking new episodic opera — a through-sung web series based on true events — that has been honored by 35 film festivals. Filmed as if seen via laptop, iPhone, or iPad, with dazzling motion graphics by the Emmy Award-winning Crazybridge, THE WEB OPERA tells of a group of college freshmen and the invasion of privacy that forever changes their lives, its depiction compelling the viewer to violate the privacy of the characters themselves. By examining ourselves in such a unique way, with “high-voltage music combined with ensemble beauty … we are reminded how much humans have become dependent on and addicted to this technology. The close-up claustrophobic shots exacerbate this hard truth.” THE WEB OPERA, inspired by the tragedy of Tyler Clementi, supports suicide prevention and fights cyber abuse via links on the project’s website; it is presented for free online to help the most vulnerable and all those at risk.

 

Date with the Divas (Vol. 2)

Produced by Opera Sustenida

Finalist: Education/Enrichment Materials

 

Date with the Divas (Vol. 2) is the second in Opera Sustenida’s concert series exploring the history of opera. Experience the very best of the Romantic era with timeless works from Donizetti, Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, and more. Joining The Divas on the virtual stage is an all-star cast of rising and established Canadian opera stars, as well as an international chorus for thrilling works like “Casta Diva,” Senta’s Ballad, “Chacun le sait,” and the Ride of the Valkyries.

 

Playground Opera's Hansel and Gretel

Produced by Dennis Whitehead Darling, Tanya Jones, Victoria Davis, Anne Hiatt, David Gordon, Ramona Ponce, Mila Henry, Daniel Stuart Nelson, Giannina Gutierrez

Finalist: Education/Enrichment Materials

 

The Playground Opera education program is both an in-classroom experience and virtual portal for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students to be immersed in every aspect of the creation, production, and performance of an opera. A main feature of the program is the students’ interaction with a popular opera that Opera on Tap produces as a video specifically for this age group so that children can joyfully sing along, learn another language, and make their own opera video. For the Hansel and Gretel curriculum, children worked with teachers to become part of a chorus and submitted their video to Opera on Tap; video editors then embedded these into the Hansel and Gretel film. The final project was a premiere of Hansel and Gretel at each participating school where students walked the red carpet in front of their teachers and families for a screening at the school. The work sample presented here is from a partner school in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

 

 

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas: A Cinematic Opera

Produced by Cleveland Institute of Music, Dean Southern, Alexander E. Tennant, Eric S. Vaughan
Finalist: University/Conservatory Projects

 

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas: A Cinematic Opera was produced to provide new educational experiences to students at the Cleveland Institute of Music at the height of the pre-vaccine COVID-19 pandemic. The team at CIM seized upon the opportunity to generate a fully realized cinematic version of Purcell’s masterpiece by giving students exposure to working with a professional recording engineer and film director, rather than replicating traditional modes of opera performance. 

 

The process began with the creation of an orchestra track, after which individual cast members recorded their voices, receiving feedback from the recording engineer, conductor, and vocal coaches during multiple takes. During the filming process, cast members were required to take direction on the spot, often varying the action, again, over multiple takes.



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