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Opera Kansas Announces World Premiere Of STAGGERWING At Kansas Aviation Museum


Staggerwing blends the sounds of the 1930s and the unique musical heritage of the Midwest with blues and territory jazz bands.

Opera Kansas Announces World Premiere Of STAGGERWING At Kansas Aviation Museum

Winners of the biennial Zepick Modern Opera Competition, Composer Lisa DeSpain and Librettist Rachel J. Peters, will premiere their latest collaboration Staggerwing at Opera Kansas, July 30- August 1 at the Kansas Aviation Museum. A female-led world premiere, Staggerwing brings to life the historical and dangerous flight of aviatrixes Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes as they compete for and win the grueling transcontinental 1936 Bendix Trophy Race.

A new chamber opera that celebrates the tenacity, ingenuity, and passion of women committed to pushing boundaries, Staggerwing blends the sounds of the 1930s and the unique musical heritage of the Midwest with blues and territory jazz bands influenced by Walter Page and Bennie Moten, with Tin Pan Alley songs, classical voice and opera. While the Bendix was fraught with danger as competitors pushed the boundaries of aeronautics, the work dramatizes the intense intimacy and confinement of the plane and expansive episodes of the women's pasts and crucial events leading up to the historical race where females were allowed to compete for the first time. Louise and Blanche navigate the physical risks of their flight, personal tragedies and the sexism of a male-dominated field, emerging victorious. Named after the model of airplane Louise and Blanche flew in the Bendix race, the work is a nod to the local history of Wichita and its aeronautical innovation and history while highlighting the stories of unsung female trailblazers and the contributions of Olive Ann Beech of Wichita's own Beech Aircraft Company as a powerful advocate for women in aviation.

"Staggerwing would not be Staggerwing without Wichita!" DeSpain and Peters remark. "Opera Kansas and Dr. Lyle Zepick generously provided the resources for this opera to exist, and we are doing our best to return the gift," the continue. "With a critical scene in the opera taking place in Wichita midway through the race, Beechcraft remains a source of Wichita pride, economic support and continuous aviation innovation. Walter and Olive Ann Beech posthumously remain local heroes for their tireless efforts in the field, and our opera is a tribute to the city they called home."

"We are so excited to bring this inspiring story to life," adds Ashley Winters, managing Artistic Director of Opera Kansas. "It is a thrill to be returning to live, in-person performances with this historic premiere."

Staggerwing is the 2020 winner of the biennial Zepick Modern Opera Competition. Composer Lisa DeSpain and librettist Rachel J. Peters were awarded $25,000 to develop the new opera, which won out over 128 submissions from six continents, 18 countries, and 35 states. This production, written during the COVID-19 pandemic, is supported by an Innovative Partnership Grant from KCAIC, The Walter H. and Olive Ann Beech Memorial Fund at the Wichita Community Foundation, The William and Mary Lynn Oliver Donor Advised Fund

as well as presented in partnership with Radio Kansas.


Staggerwing will be performed July 30-August 1, 2021.

A gala will take place on July 30 at 6:30 p.m. with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. A preshow talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. featuring composer Lisa DeSpain, librettist Rachel J. Peters, and patron of the commission Dr. Lyle Zepick.

An encore performance will be held July 31 at 7:30 p.m.

Matinee performances are included with Kansas Aviation Museum admission; Saturday, July 31 at 11:00 a.m. and Sunday, August 1 and 12:00 p.m.

Tickets start at $25 and are available at

Livestream tickets for July 30 are $25 and available at


The Kansas Aviation Museum is located at 3350 South George Washington Blvd in Wichita.

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