AMERICAN APOLLO Premieres at Des Moines Metro Opera in July

The performance is on July 13.

By: Apr. 22, 2024
AMERICAN APOLLO Premieres at Des Moines Metro Opera in July
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On Saturday, July 13, Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) adds a new work to the operatic repertory with the world premiere of American Apollo, a new opera by composer Damien Geter and librettist Lila Palmer. Originally conceived as a 20-minute chamber opera in 2021 as part of Washington National Opera's American Opera Initiative, DMMO commissioned Geter and Palmer to expand and transform American Apollo into a full-length work, which will run for three performances—July 13 at 8pm, July 18 at 7:30pm and July 19 at 1pm—in repertory alongside Rossini's The Barber of Seville, a new production of Richard Strauss's Salome, and a new production and company premiere of Debussy's Pelléas & Mélisande during the 2024 Festival Season. The opera marks Des Moines Metro Opera's third world premiere, preceded by Lee Hoiby's The Tempest (1986) and Kristin Kuster and Mark Campbell's A Thousand Acres (2022).

About American Apollo

When American portraitist John Singer Sargent died in 1925, only one portrait was hanging in his private studio. But it was not one of his famous paintings that defined the Gilded Age in New England; it was a spare, nude portrait of a Black man: monumental, vulnerable and pulsing with life. His name was Thomas Eugene McKeller.

American Apollo gives voice to this overlooked but pivotal figure in American art. Inspired by the January 2017 discovery of a file of ten large-format works on paper signed by Sargent and left to his friend and patron, Isabella Stewart Gardner, American Apollo examines the personal and professional relationship between John Singer Sargent, the celebrity image maker and artist, and Thomas Eugene McKeller, the Black hotel worker, veteran and model whose image was transformed by Sargent into white-skinned Greek gods featured prominently in murals throughout Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Poised at the crossroads of race, sexuality, class, celebrity and history, the opera unfolds the story of McKeller, revealing his seminal role in some of the most important works of public art of the late twentieth century.

“As we approach the premiere of the full version of American Apollo, I reflect on the journey that brought Lila and me to this point, and why Thomas McKeller's story is significant,” said Geter. “The importance of his narrative lies in the United States' most recent reckoning with race relations, and the excavating of essential Black figures whose contributions to the world were covered up, lost or forgotten. It is my hope that the music serves the drama in a way that makes the audience root for Thomas in his quest to simply be seen.” According to curator Nathaniel Silver of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, “while reams of correspondence attest to Sargent's life and work, successes and failures and even such details as his tastes in music, theater or food, McKeller is almost invisible in the historical record.”

Thanks in part to Silver's work, librettist Lila Palmer was able to use this extensive new scholarship to craft a rich history for McKeller and Sargent alongside a vibrant cast of supporting characters. American Apollo is now “equal parts portrait and romance,” Palmer explains, and “a bittersweet, strikingly contemporary story of love, creativity and friendship that reaches across what divides us.”

Tickets for the July 13, July 18 and July 19 performances of American Apollo range from $50–$208 and are available at or by calling the Box Office at (515) 209-3257. For more information about American Apollo, visit To request press tickets, contact director of marketing and public relations Scott Arens at or (515) 209-3255.


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