May 11, 2023
(May 2023) — The Atlanta Opera is pleased to announce that five creative teams have been selected to participate in the second annual 96-Hour Opera Project, a composition competition and showcase that pairs composers and librettists to write ten-minute operas. Bringing their completed works to Atlanta, the teams will workshop and rehearse their productions over four days from June 9–12, with travel, housing, singers, pianists and rehearsal space provided. On the final day, the ten-minute works will be seen in a free public performance at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse College, and a winner will be selected by a distinguished group of judges: Mark Campbell, Doug Hooker, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Tazewell Thompson, Priti Gandhi and Tinashe Kajese-Bolden (see below for judges’ bios). The Atlanta Opera awards the winning team a $10,000 prize and an Atlanta Opera commission for a new chamber opera to be produced and performed in an upcoming season; all other participants are guaranteed a $1000 honorarium. This season, with the support of the Historic Oakland Foundation and the Atlanta History Center, the stories for the operas will be drawn from the lives of notable Atlantans who are interred at Oakland Cemetery. The selected composer/librettist creative teams are Jorge Sosa & Alejandra Martinez, Omar Najmi & Catherine Yu, Dave Ragland & Selda Sahin, Edward Shilts & Laura Barati, and Nathan Felix & Anita Gonzalez (see below for creative team bios).
Designed specifically for composers and librettists from historically underrepresented communities, the 96-Hour Opera Project is only open to those who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Arab American, Latin American or other communities of color. The Atlanta Opera’s Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director, Tomer Zvulun, explains:
“The rich history of Atlanta rests not only in the lives of the most famous, but in the courage and strength of even the most unrecognized people. Our goal is to lift up the inspirational stories that reflect the multicultural history of Atlanta and to amplify the voices of a diverse group of talented emerging creators.”
Grammy Award-winning vocalist Morris Robinson, who serves as an advisor to the project, adds:
“The level of talent here is stunning. I cannot wait to hear and see what they prepare over the coming months.”
The 96-Hour Opera Project is supported in part by the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and the Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) through the appropriations of the Georgia General Assembly. GCA also receives support from its partner agency—the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding for this program is provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
The 96-Hour Opera Project is sponsored by the UPS Foundation with support from the Rich Foundation.
96-Hour Project Composers
Nathan Felix is a Mexican American composer known for his immersive operas and experimental films. His music has premiered in Bulgaria, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Mongolia, and the United States, as well as being featured on MTV, National Public Radio, PBS, and the BBC. Felix often focuses on telling Latinx-themed and minority stories that highlight border issues, underserved communities, and his Hispanic heritage. Transitioning from leading an indie-rock band in 2013, Felix began composing for orchestra and chorus before turning to opera. In 2018 he was recognized for his Opera on a Bus and the conceptual “headphone opera” The War Bride –a concept he expanded upon at the Fringe Festivals in Orlando, Austin, and San Antonio. Recent works include the operas Alien Wanderers : Alien World : Alien Home (2019), Öcalan (2020), Ribas-Dominicci (2021), and La Malinche – Traitor | Savior (2022). Felix also premiered his Third Symphony in Austin, Texas in 2022.
Omar Najmi is an American tenor and composer. A Boston-based artist, Najmi maintains a demanding international performance career in addition to composing. Works include the opera En la ardiente oscuridad (2019); the song cycle my name is Alondra (2021); the song cycle More Than Our Own Cave (2022), premiered by Juventas New Music Ensemble. In-progress works include Jo dooba so paar, a short opera exploring the intersection of Queer and Muslim identity; and the opera The Fermi Paradox, which is currently a semifinalist with Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s New Works Collective. In 2022, Najmi and his husband, Brendon Shapiro, co-founded Catalyst New Music, a Boston organization dedicated to fostering, developing, and producing new works, including Najmi’s new opera This Is Not That Dawn.
Dave Ragland is a four-time Emmy-nominated composer, conductor, vocalist, and educator. Based in Nashville, Ragland received the 2021 American Prize in Composition, two Telly Awards and two Midsouth Regional Emmy nominations for his work as composer and audio engineer of One Vote Won (2020), a production of the Nashville Opera commemorating the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment for woman’s suffrage. Most recently, Ragland collaborated with librettist Mary McCallum to create the children’s opera Charlie and the Wolf for Cedar Rapids Opera, and the educational opera Beatrice for Oregon’s Portland Opera. Additional composition credits include works for the Nashville Symphony, Nashville Ballet, Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Intersection Contemporary Ensemble, chatterbird and the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble. Ragland was the 2020 Grady-Rayam Negro Spirituals Foundation composer-in-residence and a member of the inaugural cohort of composers for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Mentoring Program.
Edward Shilts received their bachelor’s degree from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, their master’s in music composition from Shenandoah University, and Master of Arts in Opera Making and Writing from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, England. Shilts’s musical style is influenced by their interest in opera, politics, mental health, and gender expression. As an artist, Shilts is interested in creating music that is expressionistic in emotion, but surreal in experience through temporal manipulation and the distortion of sound. Their most recent opera, Samhain Bloom (2022), premiered at the Guildhall School, following the premiere of Le Bistro Poulet by Opera Extra at Shenandoah Conservatory. Shilts’s concert music has been performed at numerous festivals including the Walden School’s Creative Musicians Retreat, Charlotte New Music Festival and their Hypercube Composition Lab, and Divergent Studio at the Longy School of Music at Bard College. Their work has been performed by ensembles such as the Mivos Quartet, Hypercube, and loadbang. Currently, Shilts is enrolled at the University of Miami, pursuing a DMA in composition.
Jorge Sosa is a Mexican-born composer currently residing in New York City. His music reflects an eclectic mix of styles and influences, including traces of folk and traditional music from around the globe, chant, polyphonic vocal repertoire, Afro-Latin rhythms, jazz harmonies, and electronic music. Combining expansive lyricism and melodrama with electronic sounds, noise, and colorful harmonies, Sosa has explored the violent world of drug trafficking in his opera La Reina (2016) and the complex relationships among immigrants as they struggle to find identity in a new place in I Am A Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams (2019). His opera scene Samiir’s Feast (2022) was commissioned and performed by White Snake Projects and he was commissioned to develop The Rising Tide for Boston Children’s Chorus on the subject of climate change. During the 2023 season, Sosa will premiere the puppet opera Monkey that was commissioned by White Snake Projects in Boston, as well as the comic opera The Beehive, commissioned by the University of Northern Iowa. Sosa is an associate professor at Molloy University in Rockville Centre, New York.
96-Hour Project Librettists
Laura Barati is a librettist and deviser of new works. Barati’s experience as the queer daughter of a Jewish Colombian mother and a Muslim Iranian father fuels her desire to make untold stories and complex identities come alive onstage. She delights in pushing the limits of traditional genres and picking apart the messy intersections of gender, race, and sexuality through a critical but joyful lens. Current commissions include The Interaction Effect with composer Pamela Stein Lynde for Fresh Squeezed Opera’s 2025 season. Her opera Caravana de mujeres with composer Nicolas Lell Benavides is in development with MassOpera’s New Opera Workshop. Her works include the operas 75 Miles with composer Matt Boehler, Henna Leaves and Uprising with composer Aleksandra Weil, the musicals How To Create A Young Girl with composer TJ Rubin, Miss Havisham’s Wedding with lyricist David Gomez and composer Jude Obermüller, and The Electric Brain’s We Regret To Inform You That Reza Is Dead. Her writing has been performed in New York City at the American Opera Project, Opera America, The Tank, Prospect Theater Company, NYMF, The Duplex, and Don’t Tell Mama; and regionally at Washington National Opera, Lowbrow Opera Collective, Barrington Stage Company, Two River Theater, Stage Femmes, and Music Theatre Kansas City. She is a founding member of the Chicago-based devising collective The Electric Brain. She received her M.F.A. in Graduate Musical Theatre Writing from NYU Tisch.
Anita Gonzalez believes the art of storytelling connects people to their cultures. As a faculty member at Georgetown University, Gonzalez extends the reach of her scholarship through public engagement focused on Performing Arts and African American Studies. Her massive open online courses Storytelling for Social Change and Black Performance as Social Protest have reached over 50,000 learners to date. She has published articles in Radical History Review, Modern Drama, Theatre Research International, and Dance Research. She has edited and authored four books: Performance, Dance and Political Economy (Bloomsbury), Black Performance Theory (Duke), Afro-Mexico: Dancing Between Myth and Reality (U-Texas Press), and Jarocho’s Soul (Rowan Littlefield). Additional essays about intercultural performance appear in the edited collections African Performance Arts and Political Acts, Black Acting Methods, Narratives in Black British Dance, The Community Performance Reade, and the Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theatre. Her recent theatre works include the libretto Courthouse Bells for the Boston Opera Collaborative, Zora on My Mind and Ybor City the Musical.
Alejandra Martinez returns to the 96-Hour Opera Project for a second time having been a finalist in 2022. Paired with composer Jorge Sosa, the team produced an original scene inspired by Atlanta’s heritage titled Buford Highway Dreams. She has been recognized by Opera America, Fort Worth Opera and The Atlanta Opera for her creative writing as a librettist and lyricist. She is honored to have studied dramatic writing with Cherríe Moraga and Migdalia Cruz. Most recently, she has been invited to collaborate with composer Laura Intravia for the Boston Singers’ Resource initiative FUSE: Collaborations in Song, producing the original song cycle You and I, I and You. Responding to the pandemic restrictions, Martinez was proud to partner with Matthew Recio on an outdoor cantata, The Hollow, about mental illness and recovery. During Summer 2022, her monodrama, The Queen, My Lord, Is Dead, was produced at UCLA with music by Tomàs Peire Serrate. Currently, she is working on a new Spanish-language opera, Escobar, with composer Matteo Neri.
Selda Sahin wrote original songs for the feature film American Reject in collaboration with Derek Gregor. Additionally, their musical Modern, about a group of Amish teens on their Rumspringa, was developed in 2019 at The Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals, the ASCAP Grow a Show Workshop, and the NYC Stephen Schwartz ASCAP workshop. The work received further development at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in February 2022. With Autumn Reeser and Derek Gregor, Sahin is developing a new musical titled Particle, which saw its original development at the ĭmáGen program at Michigan State University in 2021. Sahin wrote the lyrics to the musical short film Grind starring Anthony Rapp. Her musical All Fall Down (music and lyrics) was developed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, Penn State NuMusicals, and TheatreLab. She wrote the lyrics to the children’s musical He Said/She Said, which toured the Northeast in 2017. Her talents were rewarded with a single-song publishing contract by Anthem Entertainment for “Filling Space,” and her song “The Storm” was a finalist for the Great American Song Contest. She received an Emmy Award for her work on Passion at Lincoln Center.
Catherine Yu is a writer of plays and libretti including Le Jeté (2019 Bay Area Playwrights Foundation Semifinalist), The Day is Long to End (2018 University of Florida production), The Things You Tell Yourself and The Sun Experiment (FringeNYC Excellence in Playwriting, Time Out NY’s “Top Ten Nightlife and Music Events of the Week” in August 2014). She has been a 2016 New York State Council on the Arts/NYFA fellow, a MacDowell fellow, a Soho Rep W/D Lab writer and a New York Theatre Workshop Emerging Artist of Color. Her short plays have been commissioned by 52nd Street Project, Two Headed Rep, and Planned Parenthood among others. Her one-act A Sand Romance was a 2016 Heidman Award finalist. She has served as a grants panelist for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Brooklyn Arts Council. As an educator, she has worked as a GED tutor for federal prison inmates, an ESL tutor in China and is currently a tutor to elementary school children. A New Yorker now based in Chicago, Yu is currently a resident playwright of Chicago Dramatists.
96-Hour Project Judges
Mark Campbell is a Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning librettist and lyricist whose works are among the most successful in the contemporary opera canon. Campbell has written 40 opera librettos, lyrics for seven musicals and text for six song cycles and four oratorios. His works include Silent Night, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, The Shining, Elizabeth Cree, The Manchurian Candidate, As One, A Year to the Day, Later the Same Evening, Unruly Sun, Songs from an Unmade Bed and many more. Campbell mentors future librettists and composers in such programs as the American Opera Project and American Lyric Theater. In 2020, he created and funded the Campbell Opera Librettist Prize, the first award for opera librettists in the history of the art form, and in 2022 he co-created the True Voice Award to help with the training of transgender singers, administered by Washington National Opera.
Andrea Davis Pinkney is the acclaimed librettist for The Snowy Day with composer Joel Thompson, a work based on the beloved bestselling classic by Ezra Jack Keats. The opera has been hailed by the New York Times for its ability to “change perceptions about Black identity and attract new audiences to opera.” Additionally, Pinkney is a New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of numerous books. She is a four-time NAACP Image Award nominee and has been inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame. She and her work are the subject of the Emmy-nominated film Andrea Davis Pickney: National Author Engagement. Celebrated as an author, editor, and publisher, Pickney is the recipient of the Regina Medal (Catholic Library Association), the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Kerlan Award (University of Minnesota) for her singular body of work and distinguished contribution to the field of literature.
Priti Gandhi was named Artistic Director of Oregon’s Portland Opera in 2021 after serving as Chief Artistic Officer of the Minnesota Opera and artistic administrator of the San Diego Opera. Chief among her accomplishments was serving as a member of the team that helped save San Diego Opera from near closure in 2014. Gandhi has had a 20-year international opera career, appearing with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Seattle Opera, San Diego Opera Théatre du Châtelet, the Royal Opera House, Prague’s Estates Theatre, and the New York City and San Francisco Operas. An alumna of young artist programs at Cleveland Opera and San Diego Opera, Gandhi is also a published journalist and speaker.
Doug Hooker was recently appointed CEO of the Midtown Connector Park project, an initiative to build a public park over a portion of the connector highway in Atlanta. Throughout his career Hooker has worked for both public and private sector organizations. Though he “retired” last year after leading the Atlanta Regional Commission for many years, he serves on the boards of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, the Latin American Association, the Clayton State University Foundation, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He is a Special Fellow of the Urban Studies Institute of Georgia State University, where he teaches urban and regional governance. With a lifelong love of music, Hooker has served on boards of the Fox Theatre, the Trey Clegg Singers, the Aurora Theatre, the Atlanta Music Project, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and The Atlanta Opera. He has composed several works for orchestra, choir, and solo voice. His most recent premieres were Pandemic Elegy, a work for string quartet, in February 2023; and Without Regard to Sex, Race, or Color, composed for orchestra and premiered in February 2022.
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden is an award-winning director, actor, and educator who was named the BOLD Women’s Leadership Circle Artistic Director Fellow for Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and is a Princess Grace 2019 Award winner for directing. She received a Map Fund Award to develop All Smiles, a work that centers on the experience of children on the autism spectrum, for Theater for the Very Young. Her directing credits include Native Gardens (Karen Zacarias) at Virginia Center Stage; Nick’s Flamingo Grill (Phillip DePoy), a world premiere at the Alliance Theater; Eclipsed (Danai Gurira) at Synchronicity Theater; and Ghost (Idris Goodwin) at the Alliance Theatre. As an actor, Kajese-Bolden has worked on and off Broadway, at regional theaters, and on television and film. She appeared in the NAACP Image Award winning mini-series The Bobby Brown Story, with Oprah Winfrey in the HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and in numerous television roles including Cherish the Day, Valor, The Inspectors, Outcast, Powers, Greenleaf, Cold Case and others.
Tazewell Thompson is an internationally acclaimed director for opera and theater, an award-winning playwright, librettist, teacher, and actor. His opera Blue with composer Jeanine Tesori won the 2020 Music Critics Association of North America Award for Best New Opera. The New York Times included Blue as Best in Classical Music for 2019. He has more than 150 directing credits, including 30 world and American premieres, in opera houses and theaters across the USA, France, Spain, Italy, Africa, Japan, and Canada. His award-winning play Constant Star has had 16 national productions, garnering nine Barrymore Awards, five NAACP Image Awards, and three Carbonell Awards. His production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, broadcast Live from Lincoln Center, received Emmy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Production – Classical Music. A select list of operas directed includes Dialogues of the Carmelites, Death in Venice, Xerxes, Carmen, Don Giovanni, The Tender Land, Street Scene, Pearl Fishers, Norma, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Patience, and Freedom Ride. He is director of Opera Studies at Manhattan School of Music.
About The Atlanta Opera
The Atlanta Opera’s mission is to be the major international opera company that Atlanta deserves, while reimagining what opera can be. Founded in 1979, the company works with world-renowned singers, conductors, directors, and designers who seek to enhance the art form. Under the leadership of internationally recognized stage director and Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, The Atlanta Opera expanded from three to four mainstage productions at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and launched the acclaimed Discoveries Series and the innovative 96-Hour Opera Project. In recent years, the company has been named among the “Best of 2015” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has been nominated for a 2016 International Opera Award, and won ArtsATL’s 2019 Luminary Award for Community Engagement in recognition of its successful Veterans Program in partnership with the Home Depot Foundation. In addition, The Atlanta Opera was featured in a 2018 Harvard Business School case study about successful organizational growth, and Zvulun presented a TEDx Talk at Emory University titled “The Ambidextrous Opera Company, or Opera in the Age of iPhones.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Atlanta Opera was one of the only companies in the world to create a full, alternative season, consisting of no less than 40 live performances in two different outdoor venues, including a revolutionary custom-designed circus tent. The fundraising goal was tripled, and four new productions were created, each of which employed 150 cast, crew and staff. The critically acclaimed productions and concerts were streamed in HD in the newly created streaming platform “Spotlight Media,” allowing The Atlanta Opera to reach a global audience. National media coverage of the “pandemic season” included features in the Wall Street Journal and PBS NewsHour. For more information, visit atlantaopera.org.
High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.
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© 21C Media Group, May 2023