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Opera Philadelphia Appoints Rene Orth as Composer-in-Residence

Rene Orth

In collaboration with New York’s Music-Theatre Group, Opera Philadelphia is proud to announce that Rene Orth has been selected as its sixth Composer-in-Residence. Orth, whose music is “whimsical, spiky, sometimes show-bizy, always dramatic, reflective, rarely predictable, and often electronic” (Musical America), was chosen for the three-season position from a national field of applicants, and now has the opportunity to follow a personalized development track focused on the advancement of her skills as an operatic composer.

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the three-year program fosters tomorrow’s American operatic masterpieces through personalized creative development and intensive, hands-on composition opportunities for today’s most promising opera composers. The Composer-in-Residence position combines its individualized plan of study with a living stipend and health benefits.

Of her appointment, Orth said:

“I am so incredibly excited for this opportunity. As a composer committed to writing for the stage, I have no doubt that working alongside Opera Philadelphia, Music-Theatre Group, and my fellow Composers-in-Residence will help me develop into the best opera composer that I can be.”

Originally hailing from Dallas, 30-year-old Orth recently completed her studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she held the Edward B. Garrigues Fellowship and studied with David Ludwig, Richard Danielpour, and Jennifer Higdon, whose Cold Mountain received its East Coast premiere at Opera Philadelphia in February. Orth’s chamber opera, Empty the House, which is written to a libretto by Mark Campbell, received its world premiere at Curtis Opera Theatre in a sold-out run in January. An intimate, poignant exploration of the complex nature of forgiveness, the opera centers on a mother who invites her grown daughter home for a last weekend in a house filled with painful memories, which nearly overwhelm them both. The piece was also selected to be part of Fort Worth Opera’s FRONTIERS showcase this past May. Click here to hear an aria from Empty the House.

Orth was selected for Opera Philadelphia’s Composer-in-Residence program by a five-person panel, comprising General Director and President David B. Devan, Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris, Artistic Advisor Mikael Eliasen, New Works Administrator Sarah Williams, and Diane Wondisford, Producing Director of Music-Theatre Group.

David B. Devan said:

“A natural collaborator, Rene Orth exudes creativity, discovery, and exploration. She has an individual voice that soars but is also playful, whimsical, and sincere. She writes to move people and knows that there is no better art form than opera to accomplish that lofty goal. I can’t wait to see what unfolds in and out of the Composer in Residence program.”

Diane Wondisford commented:

“Rene Orth is a skilled and passionate young composer, and I am eager to witness how the mentoring and wide range of technical and practical experiences available to her during her residency will deepen and broaden her work as an opera composer.”

Orth is a recipient of a 2016 OPERA America Discovery Grant for Female Composers, which will help provide funding for the development of Machine, a new chamber opera with librettist Jason Kim. In 2014, Washington National Opera commissioned Orth for a chamber opera, An American Man. Also with a libretto by Jason Kim, the work premiered at the Kennedy Center as part of WNO’s American Opera Initiative. She has also held residencies at Yaddo and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and currently serves on the theory and composition faculty of the Luzerne Music Center. Recent and upcoming projects include commissions from Festival d’Aix-en- Provence, Women’s Sacred Music Project, the Louisville Orchestra, and the Barnes Foundation. This summer, Orth looks forward to returning to Festival d’Aix-en-Provence as one of three composers selected for the Song and Creation Residency. She has also had previous commissions and performances from such notable ensembles as the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, the Dover Quartet, the Rock School of Dance, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and the Pennsylvania Ballet.

Orth’s new appointment was launched on June 1, when she joined Composers-in-Residence David T. Little, appointed in June 2014, and David Hertzberg, appointed in June 2015. Composers Missy Mazzoli, Lembit Beecher, and Andrew Norman have all already graduated from Opera Philadelphia’s Composer-in-Residence program.

The Composers-in-Residence past and present continue their creative development this season. Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek have written a chamber opera based on the Oscar-nominated 1996 film Breaking the Waves, written and directed by Lars von Trier, which receives its world premiere at the Perelman Theater in September 2016. Little’s opera JFK, which looks at the twelve hours leading up to John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, received its acclaimed world premiere at Fort Worth Opera in April. Hertzberg’s “Sunday Morning,” a work for soprano and small ensemble, received its world premiere in March at New York City Opera. In December, the New York Philharmonic premiered Norman’s Split – a piece for piano and orchestra that impressed the New York Times as “audacious, exhilarating and, in a way, exhausting” – in the same week that his composition Play scored a Grammy nomination. Beecher has recently had works performed by Cantori New York, The Colonials, and the Burlington Choral Society. He received a generous grant from Pew Center for the Arts and Heritage to develop and produce a new, fantastical chamber opera titled To Hide in a Tree of Sound, which premieres in 2017.

 About the Composer-in-Residence program

Since 2011, Opera Philadelphia has collaborated with New York’s Music-Theatre Group to offer the nation’s first comprehensive, operatic Composer-in-Residence program. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program provides a highly individualized professional development path for today’s most promising opera composers, selected on a competitive basis. The program fosters tomorrow’s masterpieces of American opera through individualized creative development. The successful applicant must be eager to step beyond his or her musical comfort zones and work zealously with the resident companies and advisors to take this timeless art form and infuse it with the artistic, technological, creative, and collaborative sensibilities most relevant to our time.

The composers take part in personalized learning tracks providing opportunities to cultivate their skills in all aspects of opera production, from working one-on-one with librettists and dramaturges, to workshops and scene treatments with world-class performers. They have exceptional access to observe and work hands-on in every aspect of creative development, production, and performance.

About Opera Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is committed to embracing innovation and developing opera for the 21st century. Described as “the very model of a modern opera company” by the Washington Post, Opera Philadelphia is the only American finalist for the 2016 International Opera Award for Best Opera Company. The company is charting a bold new path to September 2017, when Opera Philadelphia will open its 2017-18 season with an immersive, 12-day festival featuring seven operatic happenings in six venues throughout the city. The first festival, “O17,” will feature three world premieres, plus the exclusive East Coast appearance of Barrie Kosky’s groundbreaking production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and a recital by superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Opera Philadelphia will continue to present a spring season each year, including three additional productions in February, March, and April, making it the only U.S. opera company producing an annual opera season that begins with a dynamic festival. For more information, visit

To download high-resolution photos, click here.

Media Contacts
Opera Philadelphia: Frank Luzi, [email protected], (215) 893-5902
21C Media Group: Glenn Petry, [email protected], (212) 625-2038

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© 21C Media Group, June 2016

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