Virginia Arts Festival's John Dufffy Institute for New Opera to Present World Premiere of KEPT: A GHOST STORY

Virginia Arts Festival's John Dufffy Institute for New Opera to Present World Premiere of KEPT: A GHOST STORY

Virginia Arts Festival's John Dufffy Institute for New Opera to Present World Premiere of KEPT: A GHOST STORY

The Virginia Arts Festival will present the world premiere performances of the new chamber opera Kept: a ghost story at Norfolk's Attucks Theatre May 25 at 7:30 p.m. and May 28 at 3 p.m.

Developed by an all-female creative team, the opera tells the story of a wild young woman, the lighthouse keeper she marries, and the secrets they keep from each other and themselves. This is the first fully staged production to come out of the Virginia Arts Festival's John Duffy Institute for New Opera.

Tickets are $25 and available online at, by phone at 757-282-2822 or at the Virginia Arts Festival box office, 440 Bank St., Norfolk (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday).

Inspired by the stories of the haunted Old Presque Isle Lighthouse in northern Michigan, Kept: a ghost story marks the first operatic collaboration between composer Kristin Kuster and poet/librettist Megan Levad, whose haunting score and vivid poetry illuminate the conflicted hearts of the ill-fated lovers. The opera's unique score is written for six trumpets and percussion. Kuster, who "writes commandingly for the orchestra" (The New York Times), has created commissioned works for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Levad is a prize-winning poet whose work has been published in a collection as well as in numerous publications, including Granta, the quarterly literary magazine devote to new writing.

"Megan and I have been weaving and spinning words and music together since 2009," explains Kuster. "KEPT: a ghost story is our first collaboration for the operatic stage, and it has been a thrilling three years of getting our sea legs in writing a large-scale dramatic work. There are very few opportunities for composer/librettist teams between the early workshop phase and a premiere. The Duffy team has given us the environment and resources to re-shape, hone, refine, and improve our work in ways we wouldn't have without their input and help."

The all-female creative team also includes stage director Mary Birnbaum, associate director of Artist Diploma Program at the Juilliard School, whose work has been seen at major opera companies including Houston, Santa Fe, and Seattle, and Grammy® Award-winning conductor JoAnn Falletta, music director for the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and Buffalo Philharmonic.

In a unique casting choice, tenor William Burden will sing both of the lead characters, the Keeper and Bride. Burden's performances have won critical acclaim for appearances at some of the most prestigious opera houses in the United States and Europe, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Glimmerglass Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Opéra National de Paris, and more. A supporter of new works, he appeared in the U.S. premiere of Hans Werner Henze's Phaedra at Opera Philadelphia, and created the roles of Peter in Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and Dan Hill in Christopher Theofanidis' Heart of a Soldier at the San Francisco Opera. Burden will be joined by a chorus of nine.

Kept: a ghost story was developed through the John Duffy Institute for New Opera, an ongoing initiative of the Virginia Arts Festival to support emerging writers of opera led by Grammy Award-winning composer Libby Larsen. The Institute scouts composer/librettist teams who are already at work on operas and provides these teams with professional mentors and producing partners, with the intent to see these works through to multiple productions. Kept: a ghost story is the first fully produced work to be presented.


World Premiere of Kept: a ghost story

Thursday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 28 at 3 p.m.

Attucks Theatre, 1010 Church St., Norfolk VA

Tickets $25. Available online at, by phone at 757-282-2822 or at the Virginia Arts Festival box office, 440 Bank St., Norfolk (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday - Friday)


Kristin Kuster (Composer)

Composer Kristin Kuster's enthralling, lush, and visceral compositions take inspiration from architectural space, the weather, and mythology. Kuster was awarded a 2014 OPERA America Discovery Grant, funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Program for Commissioning Women in the Arts, for the development of her new opera Kept. Coming and recent performances of her work include pieces written for the Baltimore and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras. A leading advocate for female composers, Kristin also serves as Associate Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Megan Levad (Librettist)

Poet and lyricist Megan Levad is a graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Michigan, where she won the Hopwood Program's Roethke Prize, and the Zell Postgraduate Fellowship. Her debut book, Why We Live in the Dark Ages, was the first selection in Tavern Books' Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series and was published in April 2015. Her poems have appeared in Tin House, Granta Online, Fence, the Everyman's Library anthology Killer Verse, and London art and fashion magazine AnOther, among other publications. Levad has collaborated with composer Kristin Kuster since 2011.

JoAnn Falletta (Conductor)

JoAnn Falletta serves as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Brevard Music Center. She has conducted orchestras around the world, including the orchestras of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the National Symphony as well as the Scottish BBC Orchestra, Orchestra National de Lyon, the London Symphony, and more. A leading recording artist for Naxos, Falletta has been recognized with two Grammy® Awards; her growing discography includes more than 100 titles. In 2016, Falletta was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mary Birnbaum (Stage Director)

Nominated for Best Newcomer of 2015 at the International Opera Awards in London, Mary Birnbaum has been singled out as a young stage director to watch. Her recent production of The Rape of Lucretia at Juilliard garnered critical acclaim; other New York credits include the premiere of Jeremy Denk and Steven Stucky's The Classical Style at Carnegie Hall. Her work has taken her to Taiwan, Melbourne, Costa Rica, Tel Aviv, and cities throughout the U.S. She was invited to teach acting at Juilliard at age 26, and now holds the position of Associate Director of the Artist Diploma Program.

William Burden (Tenor)

American tenor William Burden has won an outstanding reputation in a wide-ranging repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Opéra National de Paris, Glyndebourne Opera Festival, and Berliner Staatsoper. A supporter of new works, he has appeared in a number of U.S. premieres. In concert, Mr. Burden has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, and BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Libby Larsen (Director of John Duffy Institute for New Opera)

One of America's most performed living composers, Libby Larsen has created a catalog of more than 500 works spanning virtually every genre, from intimate chamber music to massive orchestral works and more than 15 operas. Grammy® Award-winning and widely recorded, she is sought after for commissions and premieres by major artists, ensembles, and orchestras around the world, and has established a permanent place for her works in the concert repertory. A vigorous, articulate advocate for the music and musicians of our time, in 1973 Larsen co-founded the American Composer's Forum.

About Virginia Arts Festival

Since 1997, the Virginia Arts Festival has transformed the cultural scene in southeastern Virginia, presenting great performers from around the world to local audiences and making this historic, recreation-rich region a cultural destination for visitors from across the United States and around the world. The Festival has presented numerous U.S. and regional premieres, and regularly commissions new works of music, dance, and theater from some of today's most influential composers, choreographers, and playwrights. The Festival's arts education programs reach tens of thousands of area schoolchildren each year through student matinees, in-school performances, artists' residencies, master classes, and demonstrations.