Washington National Opera Announces Full Schedule for American Opera Initiative

Washington National Opera Announces Full Schedule for American Opera Initiative

Washington National Opera Announces Full Schedule for American Opera Initiative

WASHINGTON-Washington National Opera (WNO) today announced details for the fourth season of the American Opera Initiative, its comprehensive commissioning program that brings contemporary American stories to the stage while fostering the talents of rising American composers and librettists. Three pairings of new opera composers and librettists-Christopher Weiss and John de los Santos, David Clay Mettens and Joshua McGuire, and Sarah Hutchings and Mark Sonnenblick-will premiere new one-act operas, each based on a contemporary American story, in a semi-staged concert performance on December 2, 2015 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Composer Luna Pearl Woolf and librettist Caitlin Vincent, an alumnus of the program's second season, will present their new hour-long work Better Gods-based on the life of Queen Lili'uokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii-on January 8 and 9, 2016 in the Terrace Theater.

"This season's composers and librettists have powerful and personal stories to tell, and their works stay true to the mission of the American Opera Initiative-to tell all kinds of new American stories through music," said WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. "I'm proud that the program is continuing to attract gifted artists, and I look forward to working with them in the coming months."

The composer/librettist teams will collaborate on their works with three distinguished mentors who have each enjoyed professional success with new American operas: composer Ricky Ian Gordon (27, A Coffin in Egypt), librettist Mark Campbell (Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music), and conductor John DeMain (WNO's Show Boat, 2013). The composers and librettists of the 20-minute operas have been working with these mentors and advisors throughout the creative process, and a full collaborative workshop is scheduled for October.

Michael Heaston is the program director of the American Opera Initiative and WNO's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. "The fourth season of the American Opera Initiative includes a diverse slate of new works that will both entertain and challenge our audiences," he said. "Our young artists will have the extraordinary opportunity to work with living composers and librettists and our incredible team of mentors on the creation of new works."

New 20-minute operas expand the American operatic repertory

The three original 20-minute operas presented in a semi-staged concert performance on December 2 will each highlight a very different aspect of American life and culture. These new works will be presented with accompaniment by a chamber orchestra conducted by John DeMain and will be performed in English. Following the performance, there will be a Q&A session with the artists and creative team.

Service Provider

Music by Christopher Weiss Libretto by John de los Santos

Service Provider is a comic opera detailing the erosion of modern romance by our obsession with mobile technology. When a loving young couple goes out for their anniversary dinner at an elegant restaurant, the evening descends into farcical disaster as the constant threat of cell phone use eventually unmasks the fractured reality of their marriage.


Music by David Clay Mettens Libretto by Joshua McGuire

As a young widow tries to return a library book stolen by her deceased husband, she realizes it is the first link in a chain of secret messages from another time. With the library closing around her, she is forced to choose between her own complex history with the book and an uncertain future.

Twenty Minutes or Less

Music by Sarah Hutchings Libretto by Mark Sonnenblick

Osha's first night working at Pizza Queen coincides with its most important delivery of the year. Will her co-workers like and respect her? Will she get the pizza to the customer in time? Will the thin veneer of human civilization prove strong enough to keep the empty chaos of the universe at bay? The clock is ticking...

Full casting for the three 20-minute operas, featuring members of WNO's Domingo- Cafritz Young Artist Program and other guest artists, will be announced soon. Tickets for the performance on Wednesday, December 2 at 7 p.m. in the Terrace Theater are $15 and are on sale now.

New hour-long work explores the life of an important figure in the history of Hawaii

Better Gods, an hour-long opera by composer Luna Pearl Woolf and librettist Caitlin Vincent, will be given its world premiere on January 8 and 9, 2016 in the Terrace Theater. Woolf, a prolific composer across many genres, made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2012 with Après Moi, le Déluge, a work for solo cello and a cappella choir. Vincent is an alumnus of the American Opera Initiative; her 20-minute work Uncle Alex had its world premiere during the initiative's second season in November 2013. Told through the eyes of an American journalist, Better Gods is the story of Queen Lili'uokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, who refused to renounce her faith and fought to preserve her people's native culture when the island was annexed to the U.S. more than a century ago. Featuring a colorful score that incorporates authentic Hawaiian instruments, themes, and sounds, the staging will be directed by internationally acclaimed theater director Ethan McSweeny. The WNO Orchestra will be led by Timothy Myers, the artistic director and principal conductor of North Carolina Opera.

Better Gods

Music by Luna Pearl Woolf

Libretto by Caitlin Vincent

Better Gods traces the overthrow and eventual abdication of Queen Lili'uokalani, the last

monarch of Hawaii, at the end of the 19th century. Set within a framework of the traditional

Hawaiian Creation Chant and infused with elements from Lili'uokalani's own musical

compositions, the opera highlights the Queen's emotional progression as she faces the loss of her

country to political interests and American annexation. Torn between her deep Christian

pacifism and her staunch belief in Hawaiian sovereignty, the queen must struggle to find a future

for herself and for her people. Better Gods explores a dark chapter of American history, leading

us to question the morality of our actions taken in the name of progress.

Full casting for Better Gods, featuring members of WNO's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program and other guest artists, will be announced soon. Tickets for the performances on January 8 and 9, 2016 at 7 p.m. in the Terrace Theater are $30 and are on sale now.

Biographies of the 2015-2016 American Opera Initiative Composers and Librettists

Christopher Weiss (Composer, Service Provider) has received commissions and performances from the Huntsville Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, Alarm Will Sound, the Boston Chamber Orchestra, the Lancaster Symphony, the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, the Columbia Orchestra, and the Curtis Symphony Orchestra. He has been Composer-in-Residence at Twickenham Fest, Young Composer-in-Residence at Music from Angel Fire, and a resident composer at the Mizzou International Composers Festival. His opera In a Mirror, Darkly (written with librettist S. O'Duinn Magee) was awarded a 2014 Domenic J. Pellicciotti Prize by SUNY Potsdam. Excerpts have been performed by Fort Worth Opera, New York City Opera, at the John Duffy Composer Institute as part of the Virginia Arts Festival, by the Crane Opera Ensemble and Orchestra, and the University of North Carolina Greensboro at the National Opera Association's annual conference. He has been in residence at Yaddo, the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. He was a recipient of a Theodore Presser Foundation Career Grant and was the youngest competitor ever to win the Jacksonville Symphony's "Fresh Ink" competition. He holds degrees from Rollins College, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the University of Michigan.

Director and choreographer John de los Santos (Librettist, Service Provider) has staged a range of productions that includes operas, musicals, plays, ballet, concerts, and workshop readings. His credits include La fille du régiment for Arizona Opera, Carousel for Ash Lawn Opera, Cendrillon for Kentucky Opera, María de Buenos Aires for Lexington Philharmonic, Green Sneakers for San Francisco's Fort Mason Center, and The Pearl Fishers for Fort Worth Opera. He also starred in and choreographed Thank You For Being A Friend at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in New York. His choreography has also been seen at the Washington National, Florida Grand, Dallas, Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Des Moines, and Austin Lyric Opera companies. He has served on the directing faculty of the Seagle Music Colony since 2005. As a librettist, he has collaborated with Clint Borzoni on the opera When Adonis Calls, constructed from the poetry of Gavin Geoffrey Dillard. When Adonis Calls was selected for inclusion in Fort Worth Opera's 2015 Frontiers showcase and was presented in concert by operamission in New York. He was

also selected by the Arizona Opera as a librettist for their new opera commission program, Arizona Sparks. He also wrote the book for the new musical A Taste of Beauty, which was presented at the 2011 Uptown Players Pride Festival. Other productions include Orpheus & Euridice for Voices of Change, Spring Awakening and Dogfight for WaterTower Theatre, and The Golden Apple for Lyric Stage. For Dallas' Uptown Players, he choreographed the American premiere of Closer to Heaven, the regional premiere of Altar Boyz (for which he was awarded the DFW Critics Forum Award for Best Choreography), and directed the regional premiere of Hello Again and the American premiere of Soho Cinders. He is originally from San Antonio, where he performed as a principal member of the Alamo City Dance Company. After relocating to Fort Worth, he received his BFA in Theatre Performance/Direction from Texas Christian University. www.johndelossantos.com

David "Clay" Mettens (Composer, Alexandra) is a composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic concert music. He has been commissioned and performed by ensembles across the United States and as part of the Ritsos Project in Samos, Greece. His orchestra piece "Sleeping I am carried..." was selected for the 24th Annual Underwood New Music Readings with the American Composers Orchestra. Recently, his works have been performed at the North American Saxophone Alliance Region 2 Conference, by OSSIA on the Cornell Contemporary Chamber Players series, and on the Café MoMus new music series at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. His compositions for large ensemble have been performed or read by the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra and Wind Orchestra, the Elon University Wind Ensemble, and the University of South Carolina Symphonic Winds. He completed degrees at the Eastman School of Music (MA, 2015) and University of South Carolina (BM, 2013), and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. www.mettensmusic.com

Joshua McGuire (Librettist, Alexandra) is the author of two full-length opera librettos, The Secret of Luca (based on the novel by Ignazio Silone) and Roscoe (based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner William Kennedy), with music by Evan Mack, as well as #isoperadead, the first- ever opera for Twitter. He is also the author of The Secret of Music: a look at the listening life, a book of essays on music and mindfulness. In 2014, he was awarded a residency at Yaddo. As a concert guitarist, he has presented recitals in the United States and internationally, specializing in new works for the instrument. He currently serves as Senior Lecturer in Musicianship at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, where he teaches courses in Musicianship as well as Meditation for Musicians.

The operatic and orchestral works of Sarah Hutchings (Composer, Twenty Minutes or Less) have been performed and commissioned by vocalists of the Metropolitan Opera, and orchestras such as the Stuttgart Philharmonic, the Florida Chamber Ensemble, and the Manchester Symphony. In 2015, another opera with librettist Mark Sonnenblick, Rodman in North Korea, received its workshop premiere with orchestra. She also continues work on her third full-length opera, The Broken Land, with librettist Melinda McLain. She has previously apprenticed composer Ricky Ian Gordon, working on his new opera Morning Star in collaboration with Cincinnati Opera, and composer Carlisle Floyd during his residency at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She was also a Composer Fellow in 2013, working under composers Michael Ching, Charles Wourinen, and Libby Larsen during her residency at the John Duffy Composers Institute. She has also appeared as an Assistant Director for a production of An American Tragedy at The Glimmerglass Festival in 2014, working with composer Tobias Picker and stage director Peter Kazaras. Previous stage direction credits include two seasons at Cincinnati Chamber Opera, directing productions of Handel's Acis and Galatea and Haydn's Il mondo della luna, and with Houghton Lyric Theater, directing productions of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and Schwartz's Children of Eden. She holds a doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a master of music degree in Composition and Theory from Florida State University. www.sdhutchings.com.<

Mark Sonnenblick (Librettist, Twenty Minutes or Less) writes lyrics, music, and theater. He is a current Dramatists Guild fellow and has developed work with the Duffy Institute at the Virginia Arts Festival, the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project, and Prospect's Music Theatre Lab. Horizons, for which he wrote book and lyrics, was workshopped at the Yale Institute for Music Theatre in the summer of 2015. Other credits include Independents (Soho Playhouse, FringeNYC 2012), Wheel of Misfortune (Denver Center for the Performing Arts), Stompcat in Lawndale (Ars Nova's Ant Fest), Rodman in North Korea (Houghton Lyric Theater), The Dinosaur Hunters (touring children's musical), and Bunkerville, which was the first student- written musical to be performed by Yale Drama in more than 30 years. He was a finalist for the 2015 Kleban Prize and the 2014 Jonathan Larson Grant, and he has received a Manhattan Association of Cabaret award nomination (with composer Ben Wexler) for Best Song. He holds a bachelor of arts in American Studies from Yale College.

The music of composer Luna Pearl Woolf (Composer, Better Gods) offers penetrating insight into its subjects, creating acoustic sound worlds that evoke and inspire. Her innovative collaborations with authors, filmmakers, directors and musicians tell original stories or respond to history and current events. She has received an OPERA America Discovery Grant to develop her full-length opera, The Pillar, with librettist and filmmaker David Van Taylor. Woolf's Angel Heart, a music storybook, with a new story by bestselling children's author Cornelia Funke, will be mounted by Festival Del Sole in summer 2015 and by LA Opera in the 2015-2016 season. The recording, narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons, won a Grammy for producer David Frost. Carnegie Hall commissioned Woolf for a new work for mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and the Brentano String Quartet, which premiered in February 2015. Upcoming commissions include a new work for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts based on Jim Dine's colossal piece "At the Carnival." She has worked closely with such artists as Frederica von Stade, Sanford Sylvan, Daniel Taylor, Lisa Delan, Christopher O'Riley, Matt Haimovitz & Uccello, Lester Lynch, ECM+, Bourgie Hall, Julian Wachner, Trinity Wall Street and the Russian National Orchestra, among others. Her music has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered and From the Top, BBC's The World, and in Opera News, Strings Magazine, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe. She founded the groundbreaking Oxingale Records with Matt Haimovitz in 2000 and launched Oxingale Music in 2010, publishing the work of award-winning contemporary composers. In a new agreement with Amsterdam's PENTATONE, her recordings are available internationally as part of the PENTATONE Oxingale Series.

Caitlin Vincent (Composer, Better Gods), one of the most promising young librettists in American opera, is known for her comedic adaptations of standard repertoire ("The Figaro Project," "Who Killed Don Giovanni?"), as well as her original opera libretti. Recent operatic works include Camelot Requiem, a full-length opera written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and Uncle Alex, a one-act opera presented as part of Washington National Opera's American Opera Initiative. A classically- trained soprano, Vincent graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in History and Literature and holds a Master of Music degree from the Peabody Conservatory. She currently resides in Melbourne, Australia where she is pursuing a PhD in the use of 3D digital scenography in 21st-century opera.

Biographies of the 2015-2016 American Opera Initiative Mentors

The songs of Ricky Ian Gordon have been performed and/or recorded by such renowned singers as Renée Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Audra MacDonald, Kelli O'Hara, Nicole Cabell, Kristin Chenoweth, the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Nathan Gunn, and Frederica Von Stade. His work for opera includes the Houston Grand Opera premiere of A Coffin in Egypt with Frederica Von Stade in the lead and Leonard Foglia adapting the Horton Foote play and directing. The production has traveled to Opera Philadelphia, the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles, and Chicago Opera Theater. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis premiered 27 featuring Stephanie Blythe and Elizabeth Futral with a libretto by Royce Vavrek. His opera The Grapes of Wrath debuted at Minnesota Opera and was seen in New York at Carnegie Hall. Other works include Orpheus & Euridice at Lincoln Center (OBIE Award), Green Sneakers at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival and the Lincoln Center American Songbook Series, Rappahannock County (Virginia Opera, Virginia Arts Festival, University of Richmond, Texas Performing Arts), and the musicals Sycamore Trees at Signature Theatre, My Life with Albertine at Playwrights Horizons, and Dream True at the Vineyard Theatre. Upcoming projects include the world premiere of an adaption of Sylvia Regan's Morning Star at Cincinnati Opera with a libretto by Bill Hoffman. He is currently composing Intimate Apparel on commission for the Metropolitan Opera with Lynn Nottage as librettist doing the adaptation of her play. He has had numerous works recorded including A Coffin In Egypt and 27 (Albany); Rappahannock County (Naxos); The Grapes of Wrath, My Life with Albertine, Dream True, and Only Heaven (P.S. Classics); Orpheus & Euridice (Ghostlight); Bright Eyed Joy (Nonesuch); Once I Was with soprano Stacey Tappan, Silver Rain with soprano Nicole Cabell, Green Sneakers with baritone Jesse Blumberg, and flowers pick themselves with soprano Melanie Helton, Piano Music of Ricky Ian Gordon, Bric-A-Brac, and A Horse with Wings (all BGR). He has been the guest of many festivals, universities, and conferences doing master classes, teaching composition, and serving as composer-in-residence. He has received numerous honors including the Stephen Sondheim Award, the Helen Hayes Award, an Alumni Merit Award for exceptional achievement and leadership from Carnegie Mellon University, the Shen Family Foundation award, as well as grants from the NEA and The Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Award. He studied composition at Carnegie Mellon University. His work is published by Hal Leonard, Carl Fischer, and Theodore Presser Music. www.rickyiangordon.com

Mark Campbell is one of the most in-demand librettists working in opera today, profiled in Opera News as one of 25 people "poised...to become major forces in opera in the coming decade." He has written fifteen librettos, but his most known work is the libretto for the opera Silent Night, which garnered the 2012 Pulitzer in Music for composer Kevin Puts. Since its premiere at Minnesota Opera, the opera has been broadcast on PBS' Great Performances and received productions at Opera Philadelphia, Fort Worth Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Calgary Opera, and The Wexford Festival in Ireland. Productions are also scheduled for Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Opéra de Montréal. Other successful operas include Later the Same Evening, Volpone, As One, Bastianello/Lucrezia, A Letter to East 11th Street, The Inspector, and Rappahannock County. He has collaborated with many notable contemporary composers, including Mark Adamo, Mason Bates, William Bolcom, Conrad Cummings, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, Martin Hennessy, Laura Kaminsky, Paul Moravec, John Musto, Paola Prestini, Kevin Puts,

Richard Peaslee and Michael Torke. He has received many other prestigious prizes for his work, including a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Recording, the first Kleban Foundation Award for Lyricist, two Richard Rodgers Awards, three Drama Desk nominations, a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Award, a New York Foundation for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship, and the Dominic J. Pelliciotti Award. As a lyricist, Mark penned all of the lyrics for Songs from an Unmade Bed, a theatrical song cycle with music by 18 composers including Jake Heggie and Duncan Sheik. Other musicals for which he has written lyrics include And the Curtain Rises, The Audience, Chang & Eng, and Splendora. Recordings of his works include the Grammy-nominated Volpone (Wolf Trap Recordings), Later the Same Evening (Albany Records), Bastianello/Lucrezia (Bridge Classical), and Songs from an Unmade Bed (Sh-k-Boom Records). Songs from an Unmade Bed, Approaching Ali, As One, and Silent Night are also published by Bill Holab Music. He has also become an advocate for contemporary American opera and has mentored future generations of opera writers through such organizations as American Opera Projects, WNO's American Opera Initiative, the Virginia Arts Festival/John Duffy Composers Institute, American Lyric Theatre, and Opera Philadelphia's Composer-in- Residence Program. Recent and upcoming operas include The Manchurian Candidate (2015, Minnesota Opera, Kevin Puts); The Whole Truth (2015, UrbanArias, Robert Paterson); Memory Boy (2015, Minnesota Opera, Reinaldo Noya); Burke + Hare (2016, Music-Theatre Group, Julian Grant); The Shining (2016, Minnesota Opera, Paul Moravec); Elizabeth Cree (2017, Opera Philadelphia, Kevin Puts); Dinner at Eight (2017, Minnesota Opera, William Bolcom), and The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (2017, Santa Fe Opera, Mason Bates).

In his 22nd season as Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Grammy and Tony Award-winning conductor John DeMain is noted for his dynamic performances on concert and opera stages throughout the world. He also serves as Artistic Director of Madison Opera. In the past, he served as Artistic Director for Opera Pacific and Music Director of Houston Grand Opera. His active conducting schedule has taken him to the stages of the National Symphony Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the symphonies of Seattle, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Houston, San Antonio, and Jacksonville, along with the Pacific Symphony, Boston Pops, Aspen Chamber Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Orchestra of Seville, the Leipzig MDR Sinfonieorchester, and Mexico's Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional. Last season, he conducted the Long Beach Symphony and Columbus Symphony. He has been a regular guest conductor with WNO, New York City Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, LA Opera, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, Virginia Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Glimmerglass Festival, Portland Opera, and Mexico's National Opera. Last season, he returned to Virginia Opera to conduct Carmen and to San Francisco Opera for Show Boat. In the 2015-2016 season, he will return to Washington National Opera to conduct Lost in the Stars and to The Glimmerglass Festival to conduct Sweeney Todd in addition to his duties in Madison.


Washington National Opera (WNO) is one of the leading opera companies in the United States. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, the company presents a diverse season of grand opera-including both classics from the repertory and more contemporary pieces-plus an annual holiday family opera, several newly commissioned American works, and a variety of special concerts and events. The WNO Orchestra is led by Music Director Philippe Auguin. Founded in 1956 and an affiliate of the Kennedy Center since 2011, WNO has a storied legacy of world premieres, new productions, international tours, live recordings and radio broadcasts, and innovative education and community-engagement programs. Throughout itshistory WNO has been led by titans in the opera field, including the legendary Plácido Domingo, who headed the company from 1996 to 2011.

WNO contributes to the future of opera through two signature artist-development programs. The Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, now in its 14th season, has become one of the nation's most competitive and comprehensive professional training programs for young singers and collaborative pianists. Alumni of the program have won major competitions and gone on to successful careers at major operas houses in the U.S. and abroad. The WNO Opera Institute nurtures the ambitions of high-school-age singers from across the nation during an intensive three-week summer program held at American University in Washington.

Among the company's most successful recent programs is the 2012 launch of the American Opera Initiative, a comprehensive commissioning program that works to expand the American operatic repertory, to give WNO's young artists the chance to collaborate with living composers and librettists on new works, and to make American opera more relevant to 21st- century audiences. The most popular of WNO's community-engagement programs is M&M'S® Opera in the Outfield, during which an opera is broadcast live from the Kennedy Center Opera House stage to the high-definition scoreboard at Nationals Park. The company's other education programs include the Kids Create Opera program at local elementary schools, Look-In performances for students in grades 4-8, and the Student Dress Rehearsal Program for middle and high school students. The company also offers free Opera Insights programs before every performance in the Opera House.

To celebrate the company's 60th anniversary, Washington National Opera will present three complete cycles of Wagner's Ring in spring 2016. These performances, featuring an acclaimed production by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and conducted by Music Director Philippe Auguin, will be the first time the company has presented The Ring in complete cycles in its history.