Supporting the Work of Female Composers and Administrators at National Opera Center America

By: May. 30, 2017
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OPERA America, the national service organization for opera and the nation's leading champion for American opera, announces a series of special initiatives to advance and highlight the work of women in opera. These programs are emblematic of OPERA America's deep commitment to achieving gender equity in the field.

Among these initiatives are the granting of $100,000 to female composers to further their work (Opera Grants for Female Composers), a song cycle commissioned from four female composers and a female librettist about the first woman elected to Congress (Fierce Grace: Jeannette Rankin) and an event raising more than $15,000 to help fund a new mentorship program for female opera administrators (Backstage Brunch).


OPERA America is pleased to announce the composers who have received Discovery Grants from its Opera Grants for Female Composers program, which is made possible through the generosity of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. From among 81 applicants, an independent panel of adjudicators selected eight composers to receive a total of $100,000 to support the development of their opera compositions.

The recipients of Discovery Grants are Faye Chiao for Island of the Moon, Ellen Fishman for Marie Begins, Grace Oberhofer for ICONS/IDOLS, Tawnie Olson for Sanctuary and Storm (Working Title), Frances Pollock for Stinney: An American Execution, Kate Soper for The Romance of the Rose, Dalit Warshaw for Delusion of Grandeur and Cynthia Lee Wong for No Guarantees. See below for additional information about the composers and their works.

Over the past 30 years, OPERA America has awarded more than $13 million to Professional Company Members in support of new American operas. However, fewer than five percent of the organization's grants supporting repertoire development have been awarded to works by female composers. Launched in December 2013, Opera Grants for Female Composers provide support for the development of new operas by women, both directly to individual composers (Discovery Grants) and to opera companies producing their work (Commissioning Grants), advancing the important objective to increase diversity across the field.

Discovery Grants aim to identify and support the work of female composers writing operas, raising their visibility and promoting awareness of their compositions. In addition to receiving financial assistance, grant recipients will be introduced to leaders in the field through Opera America magazine and future New Works Forum meetings and annual conferences.

The independent panel of adjudicators for these Discovery Grants included conductor David Bloom, composer Kitty Brazelton, vocalist Katherine Ciesinski, composer Conrad Cummings, director Leonard Foglia and librettist Mac Wellman.

Since the Opera Grants for Female Composers program was announced in December 2013, a total of $600,000 has been awarded to the following composers and opera companies in support of works by women.


Opera Grants for Female Composers: Discovery Grants were awarded to the following eight composers:


Composer, Island of the Moon | Libretto by Anton Dudley

In this chamber opera, the queen of a sinking island hopes to save her people by moving them to a neighboring realm. But first she must marry her son Akoni off to the princess of the nearby island. Akoni refuses to carry off the scheme, worrying that the move will mark the end of their island's culture. The queen responds by setting forth an impossible task: He may marry the woman who shatters the moon.


Composer, Marie Begins | Libretto by Julia Curcio

As a modern woman, Marie lives in a world of endless possibilities. But on her 30th birthday, she realizes how little she has actually achieved. The audience guides Marie's trajectory in this interactive work, making choices for her at the end of each two- to six-minute scene to help her pull her life together.

Grace Oberhofer

Composer, ICONS/IDOLS | Libretto by Helen Banner

This trilogy of choral plays, written for over a dozen woman singers, tells the stories of three Byzantine empresses in the eighth and ninth centuries: Irene, Euphrosyne and Theodora. All three sacrifice personal relationships in order to gain power and end iconoclasm within the Eastern Church.


Composer, Sanctuary and Storm (Working Title) | Libretto by Roberta Barker

Inspired by actual historical correspondence, Sanctuary and Storm imagines an impassioned and wide-ranging dialogue between two titanic women of the 12th century: Eleanor of Aquitaine and Hildegard of Bingen. The women wrestle with their own mortality as they fiercely debate questions of power, beauty and the divine.


Composer, Stinney: An American Execution | Libretto by Frances Pollock and Tia Price

Steeped in Southern music, Stinney follows the true story of George Stinney Jr., the youngest person to be legally executed in 20th-century America. In 1944, the fourteen-year-old black boy was wrongfully accused of raping and murdering two white girls, and was subsequently arrested, tried and executed via electric chair.

Kate Soper

Composer, The Romance of the Rose

The Romance of the Rose is a loose adaptation of the eponymous medieval French poem, a tale of courtly love that covers a dizzying philosophical landscape. Running the stylistic gamut from medieval poetic forms to electronic "noisescapes," the opera uses allegorical figures to dramatize humankind's response to emotion, desire and music itself.


Composer, Delusion of Grandeur | Libretto by Carol Hebald

The Fat Lady from the Coney Island Zoo unexpectedly wakes up in heaven. Poets storm the Tower of Babel, rallying to abolish misunderstanding through a universal language, and a quarrel escalates to the brink of war. God, asleep since the Holocaust, is roused from his nap and reveals the Fat Lady's true identity. The action culminates in a symbolic marriage uniting all racial and religious denominations.

Cynthia Lee WONG

Composer, No Guarantees | Libretto by Richard Aellen

In this romantic comedy set in the future, a secret attempt to use an android as an understudy for a real-life lover has unexpected consequences.