The Industry's SWEET LAND Is Awarded 'Best New Opera' By MCANA

By: Aug. 26, 2021
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The Industry's SWEET LAND Is Awarded 'Best New Opera' By MCANA

The Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) is pleased to announce that its 2021 Award for BEST NEW OPERA-a major recognition given annually by an Awards Committee of distinguished music critics-goes to composers Du Yun and Raven Chacon and librettists Aja Couchois Duncan and Douglas Kearney for SWEET LAND. An eye-opening pageant that disrupts the dominant narrative of American identity, Sweet Land was a highly collaborative creation produced by The Industry, the Los Angeles-based experimental company founded by MacArthur Fellow Yuval Sharon. Sweet Land took place February 29 - March 8, 2020 before being forced to shut down due to COVID-19.

In addition to the two composers and two librettists, the opera had two directors-Sharon and Cannupa Hanska Luger. Half of the creative team has indigenous roots, with a Native artist in each of the pairings of composers, librettists, and directors. Says Sharon: "We also had the great benefit of these artists each coming from different tribal backgrounds and different perspectives on indigeneity, which made the conversation around representation and depiction so deep."

Composer Raven Chacon, United States Artists fellow and winner of the Creative Capital Award, is a composer, performer, and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation. The NY-based composer Du Yun was born and raised in Shanghai, and her recent work originates from what she states "is a lack of understanding and empathy around immigration." Her opera Angel's Bone won a Pulitzer Prize for music and explores the psychology behind human trafficking. Librettist Douglas Kearney is a poet whose "polyphonic diction pulls history apart, recombining it to reveal an alternative less whitewashed by enfranchised power" (BOMB Magazine). Librettist Aja Couchois Duncan is a mixed-race Ojibwe writer who works to advance equity and social justice.

The Industry's site-specific premiere of Sweet Land was a surreal travelogue through the Los Angeles State Historic Park. Separating the audience into two experiences of erasure and survival, Sweet Land explored the ingrained assumptions surrounding America's origins by inventing a new, elemental myth of Hosts and Arrivals. As the natural landscape and the undeniable remnants of industrialization stood in silence, the land itself was a central character-stark relief to the fantastical world of an imaginary place called "Sweet Land."

The New York Times described Sweet Land as "a bewildering and ghostly new opera" with an ending that is a "miniature masterpiece." LA Weekly described the opera as "an astonishing presentation that unfolds like a chillingly beautiful fever dream" and noted that it "lingers in the memory with its utterly entrancing music." The Los Angeles Times raved about its "enraptured scores by Du Yun and Raven Chacon, phenomenal staging and sensation-inducing performance that allows us to look at our past, the land on which we stand, who we are and what we must mean to one another anew."


MCANA's Best New Opera Award has an illustrious track record. The inaugural Award went to Missy Mazzoli (composer) and Royce Vavrek (librettist) for Breaking the Waves in 2017; the 2nd Award went to composer-librettist David Hertzberg for The Wake World in 2018; the 3rd Award went to Ellen Reid (composer) and Roxy Perkins (libretto) for p r i s m in 2019; and the 4th Award went to Jeanine Tesori (composer) and Tazewell Thompson (librettist) for Blue in 2020.

In response to winning the 2021 MCANA award, librettist Douglas Kearney said:
"Receiving the MCANA Award is a tremendous honor. Throughout the process of writing the libretto for Sweet Land, Aja and I saw ourselves as holders of story-not just the wild and often impressionistic narrative audiences finally got to see, but the collective ambitions, agreements, tensions, and joys of our collaboration with Du Yun, Raven Chacon, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Yuval Sharon, the designers, and performers of this grotesque pageant of colonial histories. Sweet Land is sometimes described as an opera that erases itself, and in a year during which a global pandemic cut our run short, we are especially grateful for the distinguished and rigorous MCANA jury whose generous approbation helps keep Sweet Land from disappearing."

Composer Du Yun added: "As a new immigrant, I am grateful for this land. Sweet Land unveils layers of truths for me. As part of this collaborative team, this work has brought me new probabilities of hopes. I'm thrilled this meaningful collaboration has received its recognition. Thank you MCANA."

The Best New Opera award plaques will be presented during the MCANA Annual Meeting, a hybrid virtual and in-person event September 10-12 in Detroit in collaboration with Michigan Opera Theatre, which is moving in a bold direction under its new artistic director, Yuval Sharon. The creators of Sweet Land (composers, librettists, directors) will attend. The timing of the Award Presentation is felicitous: during the meeting, MOT stages a new production of Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson's Blue, which won MCANA's 2020 Best New Opera Award and was featured in The Washington Post and The New York Times.


Two exciting Sweet Land developments take place this fall: an album and a documentary. On September 24, The Industry will release a live and site-specific digital Sweet Land recording via their record label imprint, The Industry Records; and the company is collaborating with KCET/PBS SoCal on an hour-long documentary entitled "Sweet Land: The Making of A Myth." It features a behind-the-scenes look at the creative team's journey bringing the production to life, and takes a deep dive into the themes and ideas that the team set out to explore, through intimate interviews with the creators and performers.


The 2021 Best New Opera runner-up is Eurydice by Matthew Aucoin and Sarah Ruhl. Due to the COVID pandemic that shut down live performance for much of the year, operas under consideration also included online productions.

The Award

2021 marks Year Five of MCANA's Annual Award for Best New Opera. It honors musical and theatrical excellence in a fully staged opera that received its world premiere in North America during the preceding calendar year. The only such award in the U.S., it is also one of the few in the world that simultaneously recognizes both composer and librettist.

After soliciting nominations from MCANA members, the finalists are chosen by an Awards Committee co-chaired by Heidi Waleson, opera critic of The Wall Street Journal, and George Loomis, longtime contributor to the Financial Times and Musical America-alongside committee members Arthur Kaptainis, who writes for the Montreal Gazette and La Scena Musicale; John Rockwell, former critic and arts editor of The New York Times and co-New York correspondent of Opera (UK); and Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker.

The Award reflects the overarching mission of MCANA to recognize distinctive achievements and, through its web publication Classical Voice North America, to communicate the richness of musical life in the U.S. and Canada at a time when classical music coverage in traditional print media is shrinking.


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