New commissions announced for WNO’s American Opera Initiative
(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—Washington National Opera (WNO) today announced details for the second season of the American Opera Initiative, its comprehensive new commissioning program to stimulate, enrich, and ensure the future of contemporary American opera. Three teams of new opera composers and librettists—Michael Gilbertson and Caroline McGraw, Jennifer Bellor and Elizabeth Reeves, and Joshua Bornfield and Caitlin Vincent—will premiere new 20-minute operas, each based on a contemporary American story, in a concert performance on November 13, 2013 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. On June 13 and 14, 2014, a new hour-long opera by composer Huang Ruo and librettist David Henry Hwang—An American Solider, based on the true story of Pvt. Danny Chen, a Chinese-American soldier who died in Afghanistan— will have its world premiere in the Terrace Theater.
“The mission of the American Opera Initiative is as important as the mission of WNO itself—to tell powerful and personal stories through all kinds of music,” said WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. “I’m proud that we are recognizing emerging American artists on the ascent of their careers and giving them the forum to create their stories and music.”
The composer/librettist teams will collaborate on their works with distinguished mentors who have each enjoyed professional success with new American operas: composer Jake Heggie
(WNO’s forthcoming Moby-Dick), librettist Mark Campbell (Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music), and conductor Anne Manson (Manitoba Chamber Orchestra). The composers and librettists have been working with these mentors and advisors throughout the creative process. The next round of workshops will be held later this month at the Kennedy Center.
“The second season of the American Opera Initiative includes evocative new works that will both entertain and challenge our audiences,” said Michael Heaston, program director of the American Opera Initiative and WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. “Plus, 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 will explore the diversity of the American experience
The three original 20-minute operas presented in concert on November 13 will each highlight a very different aspect of American life and culture. These new works will be presented with accompaniment by a chamber orchestra and will be performed in English. Following the performance, there will be a Q&A session with the artists and creative team.
Composed by Michael Gilbertson Libretto by Caroline McGraw
Breaking follows an eager young television reporter who is confined to the purgatory of human interest pieces but who desperately wants to stand out in the 24-hour news cycle. When tragedy strikes and she is the first on the scene, she couldn’t be happier—until she collides with a grieving young woman and is forced to confront the human suffering behind the headlines.
Composed by Jennifer Bellor Libretto by Elizabeth Reeves
The ghosts of three immigrant Irish railroad workers—killed in a violent clash with local farmers as they fled a cholera outbreak at Duffy’s Cut, their Pennsylvania work camp—return to haunt Malachi Harris, the camp blacksmith charged with making sure that no trace of what happened at the site remains. Troubled by his conscience, Malachi must decide whether to carry out his orders or preserve some evidence of the incident.
Composed by Joshua Bornfield Libretto by Caitlin Vincent
More than 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island, with more than one million processed in 1907 alone. Set against the backdrop of this peak year, Uncle Alex tells the story of new arrivals Anna and Jacob Eingold as they navigate their final interview with an Ellis Island inspector. When their hopes are derailed by a technicality, fellow immigrant Alex Margolis calls his own future into question with an unexpected act of heroism. Uncle Alex provides a glimpse into an experience that has shaped the core of this country.
Full casting, featuring members of WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, and creative teams will be announced soon. Tickets for the November 13 presentation are on sale now.
New hour-long opera recounts the life and death of a Chinese-American soldier in Afghanistan
The new hour-long opera presented on June 13 and 14, 2014 is written by a more experienced composer/librettist team. This work, to be performed in English, will receive a complete staging by director David Paul and a chamber orchestra will be conducted by Steven Jarvi. Both are alumni of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.
An American Soldier
Composed by Huang Ruo Libretto by David Henry Hwang
On October 3, 2011, Chinese-American Army Pvt. Danny Chen was found dead in a guard tower at his base in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The real circumstances behind his death, though, illustrate a culture of racism in the military. Based on a true story, and drawing from the ensuing courts-martial of Chen’s fellow soldiers, An American Soldier explores what happens when the very people who are supposed to protect you in a combat zone become your enemy.
Huang Ruo is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Julliard School. Following the world premiere of An American Soldier, the Santa Fe Opera will present the North American premiere of Ruo’s Chinese-language opera Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a collaboration with librettist Candace Mui-ngam Chong that had its world premiere in Hong Kong in 2011.
Librettist David Henry Hwang is a Tony Award®-winning playwright (M. Butterfly, 1988) and has written opera librettos for works by Philip Glass, Bright Sheng, Osvaldo Golijov, Unsuk Chin, and Howard Shore.
Complete casting for the June 2014 performances will be announced at a later date. Tickets are on sale now.
Leading American artists to mentor next generation of opera creators
A key element of the American Opera Initiative is connecting new composers and librettists to professional mentors who have successfully brought new American operas to the stage. Each of the inaugural mentors—composer Jake Heggie, librettist Mark Campbell, and conductor Anne Manson—will once again work with the artists selected for 2013-2014 season.