VIDEO: Washington National Opera Presents The 11th Season Of American Opera Initiative Featuring Three World Premieres

See the three world premieres on January 19, 2024, at 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

By: Jan. 16, 2024
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Washington National Opera will present the 11th season of American Opera Initiative (AOI), an acclaimed initiative to commission and present new American operas, on January 19, 2024, at 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The three composer-librettist teams are Laura Jobin-Acosta and José Alba Rodríguez, Elizabeth Gartman and Melisa Tien, and Joy Redmond and Sam Norman. Under the guidance of three distinguished mentors, Deborah Brevoort, Kamala Sankaram, and David Bloom, they have created three 20-minute chamber operas that explore issues relevant to the world we live in: preservation of cultural heritage, survival on a planet in environmental crisis, and expression of one's authentic identity. The performances will be conducted by David Bloom, directed by Chloe Treat, and performed by WNO's Cafritz Young Artists.  

A Way Forward | Composer: Laura Jobin-Acosta / Librettist: José G. Alba Rodríguez

Julia: Kresley Figueroa
Helena: Winona Martin
Gabriel : Sergio Martínez

A Way Forward follows a Mexican family of three generations who grapple with polarized ideas on how to save their business from the threat of foreclosure. The stress of the situation brings out hidden family dynamics that reveal both their flaws and passion. Will they be able to get through their crisis?  

Forever | Composer: Elizabeth Gartman / Librettist: Melisa Tien

PFAS 1: Teresa Perrotta
Tardigrade: Cecelia McKinley
PFAS 2: Sahel Salam

Eons after humans have gone extinct, a strange, chemically supercharged world remains. Perhaps all a survivor can do is try and navigate their surroundings, one toxic blast at a time. As the environmental legacy of the human species gets heftier, allow a pair of musically inclined polyfluoroalkyl substances and a hardy microorganism to paint a picture of a possible future Earth. Forever is a tragicomic opera about figuring out one's place on a changing planet.   

Hairpiece | Composer: Joy Redmond / Librettist: Sam Norman

Esther: Tiffany Choe
Ari: Jonathan Pierce Rhodes
Gale: Justin Burgess

On the verge of a solitary retirement, wigmaker Esther knows everything there is to know about her craft: you start by laying a lace foundation, then match the client's hair with a frontal and stitch in the wefts by hand. And yet she doesn't know how to save her studio, or preserve the dying art, or find meaning in her life's work. But when an eye-catching young stranger shows up unannounced at her door, an unexpected alliance emerges. 


The American Opera Initiative is a comprehensive commissioning program founded in January 2012 by Francesca Zambello in her first season as Artistic Director for the Washington National Opera. The Initiative was created to stimulate, enrich, and ensure the future of contemporary American opera by providing talented emerging composers and librettists with mentorship and opportunities to write for the stage.

Since 2012, the American Opera Initiative has commissioned three 20-minute operas each year from composers and librettists selected from across the country. Commissioned works use a chamber ensemble drawn from the WNO Orchestra and singers from the Cafritz Young Artists. Each team of composers and librettists workshops their operas throughout the development cycle at the Kennedy Center and has the invaluable experience of witnessing their work performed on a Kennedy Center stage. The American Opera Initiative has commissioned works from Nicolás Lell Benavides, Mark Campbell, Jerre Dye, David Henry Hwang, Huang Ruo, Jens Ibsen, Missy Mazzoli, Rene Orth, Zach Redler, Kamala Sankaram, Sandra Seaton, John de los Santos, Carlos Simon, and Royce Vavrek, among others.

A key element of the American Opera Initiative is connecting the young composers and librettists to professional mentors who have successfully brought new American operas to the stage. Mentors have included composers Anthony Davis, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, Laura Kaminsky, John Musto, Kevin Puts, and Carlos Simon; librettists Mark Campbell, Kimberly Reed, Kelley Rourke, and Gene Scheer; and conductors John DeMain, George Manahan, Anne Manson, David Neely, and Steven Osgood. These mentors work closely with WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and AOI Artistic Advisor Kelley Rourke, who offer detailed feedback and advice to each team. 


Laura Jobin-Acosta is a multi-cultural composer/soprano with a focus on vocal music. She has been commissioned by Ensemble Pi, Canterbury Choral Society, and Brick Church. Her opera projects include La Alcaldesa, about Puerto Rico's “Doña Fela,” the first woman to be elected as mayor of a capital city in the Americas, and The Curious Lady of Lyme Regis, about paleontologist Mary Anning. Jobin-Acosta has a BM in Classical Voice from Denver University and MM in Classical Composition from SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music. She is based in New York City.

José Alba Rodríguez was born in a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, the second of six children in a Mexican working-class family. He displayed an early interest in writing after watching West Side Story, reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, and Toni Morrison's prolific works. He has an M.A. in dramatic writing from NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study and an MFA in Graduate Musical Theatre Writing from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. José is a bilingual screenwriter, playwright, librettist, and lyricist, based in New York City.

Elizabeth Gartman is a composer and soprano based in New York City. Her compositions explore the implications of the voice paired with the physical body, process in performance, and active listening and response. She has received commissions from New Chamber Ballet, the NYC Virtuoso Singers, Beth Morrison Projects, Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Chemie, InfraSound Ensemble, and others. She holds degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and the University of Illinois.

Melisa Tien is a playwright, lyricist, and librettist invested in making formally unconventional, socially relevant, emotionally evocative work. She is the librettist of the operas The Big Swim (Houston Grand Opera w/ Asia Society Texas Center, 2024), Family Heirloom (Experiments in Opera, 2024), Song of the Nightingale (On Site Opera w/ Arts Brookfield, 2023), and The Beehive (University of Northern Iowa, 2023). She has been published in the anthologies Modern Music for New Singers: 21st Century American Art Songs and Theater Artists Making Theatre with No Theater. BA, UCLA; MFA, Columbia University.

Composer and pianist Joy Redmond earned her BA and MA at the Juilliard School. Her musical pursuits include concert, stage, and media works, collaborating with other artists as a producer and arranger, and performing on keyboards in a variety of genres. Recent commissions include the 2023–2025 Composers & The Voice workshop at American Opera Project, an orchestra piece for the Juilliard Orchestra, and a choral work for The New York Virtuoso Singers. She has been honored with a Davidson Fellowship, four ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Awards, and a BMI Student Composer Award.

Sam Norman writes for the stage and screen. Born in the UK, he wrote the libretto of Three Penelopes, a chamber opera that premiered at the Royal College of Music in 2022. Other recent work includes book and lyrics for Come Dine with Me: The Musical (off-West End Turbine Theatre) and Black Holes Like Donuts (Symphony Space). His screenplay Sperm won the OUFF Short Screenplay Competition and was shortlisted for the BFI Network Short Film Fund. He is a graduate of Oxford University and NYU Tisch, and a Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriter. 


Deborah Brevoort (librettist mentor) writes plays, musicals, and operas and was awarded the 2023 Campbell Opera Librettists prize from Opera America. She's best known for her plays The Women of Lockerbie and My Lord, What a Night. A three-time winner of the Frontiers Competition at Ft. Worth Opera, her operas include The Knock, Murasaki's Moon, Embedded, Steal a Pencil for Me, and Quamino's Map, among others. She teaches at Columbia University and NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and is a mentor to the NBO Musical Theatre Initiative in Nairobi, Kenya.

Praised as “one of the most exciting opera composers in the country” (The Washington Post), Kamala Sankaram (composer mentor) moves freely between the worlds of experimental music and contemporary opera. She is known for her operas fusing Indian classical music with the operatic form, including Thumbprint, A Rose, Monkey and Francine in the City of Tigers, and The Jungle Book. Also known for her work pushing the boundaries of the operatic form, including The Last Stand, a 10-hour opera created for the trees of Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and The Parksville Murders, the world's first virtual reality opera.

David Bloom is a conductor equally at home in orchestral repertoire, opera, and new music, leading “ferocious and focused” (The New York Times) performances lauded for their “rhythmic precision and dynamic forward motion” (The Wall Street Journal). He is co-artistic director of both Contemporaneous and Present Music, artistic director of Queer Urban Orchestra, and principal conductor of the orchestras at NYU. He has led productions for Opera Omaha, Beth Morrison Projects, Tri-Cities Opera, PROTOTYPE, Teatro Grattacielo, Experiments in Opera, and conducted over 400 world premieres, including Raven Chacon's Voiceless Mass, which won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize. 


Washington National Opera (WNO) is one of the leading opera companies in the United States. Under the leadership of General Director Timothy O'Leary and world-renowned Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, the company presents a diverse repertory of grand opera across three main venues of the Kennedy Center. From classic operas to contemporary works, each season the WNO's artistic output also includes commissioned American works and a variety of special concerts, youth operas, and events. Founded in 1956 and an artistic affiliate of the Kennedy Center since 2011, WNO has a storied legacy of more than 100 new productions, over 50 world premieres, international tours, live recordings, and radio broadcasts, digitally streamed content, as well as innovative education and community-engagement programs. Recent celebrated productions have included a new production of Strauss' Elektra; the D.C. premiere of Jeanine Tesori's and Tazewell Thompson's Blue, which was commissioned by Zambello; the world premiere of Written in Stone—composed for the Kennedy Center's 50th anniversary season; the world premiere of Philip Glass' reconceived Appomattox, presented in conjunction with cultural events throughout Washington, D.C.; the powerful performances of Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars; and the massive feat of WNO's first complete Ring Cycle, which was helmed by Zambello and played to sold-out houses following international acclaim. The 2023–2024 season includes the world premiere of Grounded by Jeanine Tesori and George Brant, and Turandot with a new ending by Christopher Tin and Susan Soon He Stanton. WNO is committed to expanding opera's reach and fostering a new generation of opera talent. Among the company's most successful education and community engagement programs are the American Opera Initiative (AOI), the Cafritz Young Artist Program, the WNO Opera Institute, Opera in the Outfield, in-person and digital Look-In performances, the Student Dress Rehearsal Program, free pre-concert lectures and post- show Q&As after many shows, the WNO Young Associates program, and the Let's Go There discussion series.  


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