THE SECRET RIVER Piano Workshop Announced at Mead Botanical Garden

Opera Orlando welcomes the community into the creative process of creating a new work.

By: Apr. 26, 2021

THE SECRET RIVER Piano Workshop Announced at Mead Botanical Garden

Last season, Opera Orlando announced the development of its first commissioned opera, The Secret River, and this past Saturday, April 24, Orlando audiences got a sneak peek at this new work.

The Company presented a public sing-through of the piece on The Grove stage at Mead Botanical Garden. An audience of over 200 socially-distanced opera fans braved the sun and heat to attend this special event, which kicked off with a pre-show talk about the development of the work with composer and University of Central Florida Pegasus Professor Stella Sung and Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning librettist Mark Campbell, along with a puppetry demonstration from production partner MicheLee Puppets.

The piano workshop is a key moment in the development of any new work, and Opera Orlando was excited to bring the community into the creative process. "The Secret River is truly an opera for all audiences," shared Opera Orlando's executive director Gabriel Preisser. "This past week of workshopping the opera in anticipation of the premiere production in December 2021 has been extremely helpful in refining the work. The cast and creative team brought so much energy and excitement to rehearsals, and it was a joy to hear the score for the first time. Getting to share this with the community only reinforced the feeling that we have a truly special opera in the works." The Orlando Sentinel arts writer Matt Palm, who attended the presentation on Saturday, was also encouraged and intrigued by the performance: "The Secret River is a tuneful work. . . it will be fascinating to see how the elements of stagecraft - lighting, costumes, and set design - will create a greater sense of adventure and danger for Calpurnia."

A one-act chamber opera set in Central Florida during the Great Depression, The Secret River is based on the book of the same name by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It follows the journey of Calpurnia, a young, intelligent girl with a robust imagination, performed by soprano and 2020-21 studio artist Kyaunne Richardson. Calpurnia learns from her mother, sung by soprano NaGuanda Nobles, and father, sung by Benjamin Taylor, that her family and community have fallen on hard times. She takes it on herself to help them, overcome her fears, and trust her imagination along her search for the secret river. She is guided by the town's wise woman, Mother Albirtha, performed by Kimberly Milton, and Rawlings herself makes an appearance in the work, performed by Metropolitan Opera soprano Emily Pulley.

Opera Orlando has been fortunate to receive funding from several foundations and institutions to support The Secret River. The commissioning of Stella Sung has received funding from OPERA America's Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Also, the Opera Orlando Youth Company, which will be featured in The Secret River, has received funding from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation, and The National Endowment for the Arts has approved a $10,000 Grants for Arts Projects award to support the world premiere production, as well as an in-school touring production of the work. "The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support this project from Opera Orlando," said arts endowment acting chairman Ann Eilers. "Opera Orlando is among the arts organizations across the country that have demonstrated creativity, excellence, and resilience during this very challenging year." Additional funding has also come from the Pabst-Steinmetz Foundation and the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation.

Stay up to date with Opera Orlando at, and get your tickets for the final production of the 2020-21 season, As One - an intimate and powerful story about a transgender woman's journey to attain self-fulfillment, authenticity, and inner peace.

Season tickets for the 2021-22 Opera on the MainStage series will also be available soon through Dr. Phillips Center's Bill & Mary Darden Box Office (445 S. Magnolia Avenue, Orlando), online at, or by calling (407) 839-0119, ext. 0. "Like" or "follow" Opera Orlando's Facebook page for event schedules and updates, and subscribe to Opera Orlando's YouTube channel for all online content.