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White Snake Projects Presents Let’s Celebrate! on Dec 10: Four Short Operas Based on Demographically Diverse Holiday Traditions

(November 2022)—On December 10, Cerise Jacobs and her activist opera company, White Snake Projects (WSP), follow up their fall mainstage production of the poli sci-fi opera Cosmic Cowboy with the first installment of Let’s Celebrate!, a new opera series comprising four short operas that supplement traditional holiday programming with stories that more closely mirror the demographics of the company’s community. The operas this season are A Braided Light by Paul Richards and Wendy Steiner, drawing on the Jewish Havdalah ceremony; Firecrackers by Guang Yang and Paula Cizmar, celebrating the Chinese Spring Festival; Rosa by Marina Lopez and Paloma Sierra, centering on the Mexican Day of the Dead; and Samiir’s Feast by Jorge Sosa and Cerise Jacobs, drawing on the traditions of the Islamic Eid al-Adha. Performers are sopranos Helen Huang and Laura Soto-Bayomi, mezzo-sopranos Kelly Guerra and Olivia Johnson, tenor Elliott Paige, and baritone Evan Bravos, with instrumentalists Timothy Steele, piano; Sophia Bernitz, violin; and Agnes Kim, cello. Stage director Laine Rettmer‘s opera productions have been praised as “wickedly smart” and “devastatingly funny” by the New York Times, and “not only profound but also shattering” by the Observer; music direction is by White Snake Projects Music Director Tianhui Ng. There will be two performances on the same day – December 10 at 3pm and 7pm – at WGBH’s Calderwood Studio, with the evening performance livestreamed.

About the Creators

Paul Richards is Research Foundation Professor and Head of Composition at the University of Florida. His works have been heard throughout the United States and internationally on six continents. Awards include Special Distinction in the ASCAP Rudolf Nissim Prize, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Fresh Ink composition prize and the New Music for Sligo/IMRO composition prize. His works have been recorded by Richard Stoltzman, the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Moravian Philharmonic, and numerous chamber groups. His writing partner, Wendy Steiner, is Richard L. Fisher Professor Emerita of English, University of Pennsylvania, and author of books on the arts such as: The Real Real Thing (2010), Venus in Exile (2001), and The Scandal of Pleasure (“NY Times 100 Best Books of 1996”). In addition to A Braided Light, Paul Richards has composed music to two of her full-length librettos: The Loathly Lady (2009) and Biennale (2013). A “digital music visualization” by Steiner, Traces on the Farther Side, was featured in the 2019 Venice Biennale.

Chinese-born composer and USC International Artist Fellow Yang Guang’s compositions have been performed in China, Korea, Germany, France, and the United States. Her recent commissions include LA Opera Connects, music for Amy Jo Rhine of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Guang is a passionate collaborator who tries to express socially conscious issues in her work and to express music in a broader way, using the art form as a benefit to society. Her librettist is award-winning playwright Paula Cizmar, whose work often takes a poetic approach to social issues. Her plays include Antigone X (Cal Rep); The Last Nights of Scheherazade, winner of the Israel Baran Award; Strawberry, under development at Boston Court Theatre (Pasadena, CA); and The Chisera, presented at Palm Beach Dramaworks’ 2022 New Year/New Plays! Festival. She and Guang have previously collaborated on Invisible for the LA Opera Eurydice Found Festival and West Edge Opera’s Snapshot, and The Night Flight Of Minerva’s Owl, winner of the Pittsburgh Festival Opera Fight for the Right competition.

Marina Lopez is a Pittsburgh-based Mexican composer, educator, and budding writer. Born and raised in Mexico City, she has a deep interest in exploring the psychological, ethnomusicological, and physical roots of her musical heritage. Her first opera, Not Our First American, premiered at Pittsburgh Opera in 2019 as part of Co-Opera, a year-long collaboration between Pittsburgh Opera and Carnegie Mellon’s Music and Drama departments. Lopez’s collaborator, Paloma Sierra, is a writer, translator, and filmmaker originally from Puerto Rico who crosses linguistic barriers via language-driven performance. An Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County, Paloma has written and directed award-winning videopoems screened internationally at ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth, Down East Flick Fest, and Fotogenia, among other festivals. Her poetry and translations are featured in Nature & Culture International Anthology, Poetry Film Live, Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal, Persephone’s Daughters, and Sampsonia Way Magazine.

Mexican-born composer and sound artist Jorge Sosa, Associate Professor and Chairperson of the Music Department at Molloy College, first teamed with White Snake Projects’ founder Cerise Jacobs for WSP’s opera I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams, which the Boston Globe said “might be White Snake’s least logistically complex affair to date. It’s also the best.” Nimbly pivoting to meet the changed performance landscape of the COVID pandemic, Sosa and Jacobs next collaborated on the digital opera Alice in the Pandemic, subsequently acquired by the Library of Congress for its Performing Arts COVID-19 Response Collection. The two are also currently collaborating on the opera Monkey: A Kung Fu Puppet Parable.

​White Snake Projects’ most recent venture, the mainstage opera Cosmic Cowboy, was inspired by both the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock and the historic landing of the space probe Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as well as the questions implicit in both events about the consequences of the colonizing impulse. On the heels of the company’s award-winning Pandemic Trilogy of digital operas, Boston Classical Review declared that Cosmic Cowboy reminded just how invigorating it is to encounter this blend of operatic tradition and innovation in person,” while the Boston Musical Intelligencer, praising composer Elena Ruehr’s “strongly useful music,” described Jacobs’s libretto as “ripped from sci-fi, awoken with current events, borrowed from Sumerian mythology, and rife with her patented metaphysical musings,” concluding: “the show grabbed us and never let go.”

About White Snake Projects

White Snake Projects (WSP) is an activist opera company making mission-driven work that unites artmaking with civic practice. It envisions a world where the power of opera expands the collective understanding of community and transforms lives through creative storytelling. The company’s most recent efforts have been devoted to the live digital productions of the Pandemic Trilogy: Alice in the Pandemic addressed the disproportionate strain of COVID-19 on communities of color and essential workers; Death by Life explored long-term incarceration and institutionalized racism; and A Survivor’s Odyssey dealt with the ongoing crisis of sexual and intimate partner violence. A critical element in the exploration of these themes is the establishment of authentic connections with thought leaders in social justice to ensure that the company’s creative work lives in an ecosystem of activism. WSP sees opera not just as performance, but as performance with purpose, a vibrant and vital art form that is also a champion of change.

White Snake Projects: Let’s Celebrate!

Dec 10 at 3pm and 7pm
Boston, MA
WGBH Calderwood Studio
Let’s Celebrate!
Four 20-minute operas:
     A Braided Light (Paul Richards/Wendy Steiner)
     Firecrackers (Guang Yang/Paula Cizmar)
     Rosa (Marina Lopez/Paloma Sierra)
     Samiir’s Feast (Jorge Sosa/Cerise Jacobs)

Stage Director: Laine Rettmer
Music Director: Tianhui Ng
Projections Designer: Pamela Hersch
Costume Designer: Rebecca Butler

Helen Huang, soprano
Laura Soto-Bayomi, soprano
Kelly Guerra, mezzo soprano
Olivia Johnson, mezzo soprano
Elliott Paige, tenor
Evan Bravos, baritone

Timothy Steele, piano
Sophia Bernitz, violin
Agnes Kim, cello

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© 21C Media Group, November 2022

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