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Opera Company of Philadelphia Announces New Co-Commissions with The Santa Fe Opera from Higdon and Morrison for American Repertoire Program

For Release On: August 10, 2011
Contact: Tracy C. Galligher
215-893-5903 or           

Santa Fe, New Mexico: Opera Company of Philadelphia General Director David B. Devan joined General Director Charles MacKay today at The Santa Fe Opera to announce the co-commissioning of two new works which will be part of the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s American Repertoire Program, a commitment to produce an American work in each of the next ten seasons.

The first commission, Oscar, based on the life of Oscar Wilde, is composed by Theodore Morrison, Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Michigan, with a libretto by John Cox and Theodore Morrison, based on writings by Oscar Wilde and his contemporaries. The opera will be performed in February 2015 at the Academy of Music as part of OCP’s 40th Anniversary Season, following its 2013 world premiere at The Santa Fe Opera.

A second commission is by the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner in music, Jennifer Higdon. She will write an opera based on the bestselling novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, with a libretto by Gene Scheer, which will premiere in Santa Fe in 2015 before making its February 2016 East Coast Premiere at the Academy of Music. Both are first operas for the composers.

“The Opera Company of Philadelphia is committed to developing creative momentum within the operatic repertoire,” shared David Devan. “The American Repertoire Program, in tandem with our recently-launched Composer In Residence Program and our annual Chamber Opera Symposium, is about supporting important new works from American composers at many different scales. In difficult economic times, perhaps more than ever, it is important to reaffirm the importance of growth in our industry, and to give our audiences exciting and engaging new experiences. The opportunity to join with the esteemed Santa Fe Opera in realizing these goals ensures that a wide range of audiences in two distinctly different regions of the country will have the chance to experience the operas, hopefully as the first of many cities to produce them.”

“The Santa Fe Opera is fortunate to have a dynamic partner, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, in the creation of Oscar and Cold Mountain,” said Charles MacKay. “The pairing of a summer opera festival and an urban opera company offers an opportunity for both of us. I am pleased that this new collaboration has come about, and am looking forward to great things.”

The economic footprint in developing a new opera marks a significant investment, making partnerships between companies a crucial factor in the new reality of producing contemporary works. Estimates for commissioning and co-production costs, which include the commission fees, preparation of the score, and construction of scenery and costumes for each opera are $1.5 to $1.8 million. The co-commissions and co-productions will be shared between the two companies on a 60/40% basis with The Santa Fe Opera serving as the lead partner and fiscal agent.


Although Theodore Morrison began composing relatively late, he has won considerable acclaim. He is a respected composer of vocal works, and of numerous pieces for chamber ensembles and orchestras that have been performed worldwide. He is the founder of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, which he led for sixteen seasons, transforming it into one of the most successful choral groups in the country. Among his orchestral works is a five-movement symphony, War and Reconciliation, based on Civil War poems by Walt Whitman, for full orchestra, soloists and chorus.

Famed stage director and librettist John Cox has been Morrison’s collaborator in the development of Oscar. Cox, who worked with Morrison to develop the libretto, began his professional career at Glyndebourne in 1959 and served as its director of productions throughout the ‘70s. During his long career, he has been associated with virtually every important opera company in the world, as well as directing stage and television productions.

Wilde’s last work, the poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” describes his ordeal and the savagery of the prison system he endured. It was a source for the libretto, as were conversations, letters and documents spoken or written by his contemporaries. Characters in the opera include Wilde’s friend and supporter Ava Leverson, Walt Whitman, and Frank Harris. Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas, will be portrayed by a non-singing dancer.  The opera will be directed by Kevin Newbury.

2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Cold Mountain is Charles Frazier’s powerful account of one soldier, W. P. Inman, who deserts the Confederate army as the war is coming to an end and makes his way back to his home on Cold Mountain. The novel won the 1997 National Book Award and was made into a film in 2003, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

Cold Mountain composer Jennifer Higdon, a Philadelphia resident who holds the position of Rock Chair in Composition on faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music, is one of the most in-demand composers today. She was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto and a Grammy the same year for her Percussion Concerto. The orchestral work blue cathedral, written in 2000 on the death of her brother, has become one of the most performed modern works. Her compositions for orchestra, chorus, and voice have been performed by many of the country’s most prominent ensembles.

The versatile American librettist, composer and songwriter Gene Scheer is the librettist. Among his many projects are several with composer Jake Heggie, the latest being Moby Dick for the Dallas Opera, which was premiered in 2010. He collaborated with Tobias Picker on two operas, An American Tragedy premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, and Therese Raquin for the Dallas Opera. He has written songs for singers including Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, and Stephanie Blythe, and a song cycle, Voices from World War II for Nathan Gunn.


In 2011, the Opera Company of Philadelphia announced three new initiatives committed to the development of new operatic works:

The American Repertoire Program is OCP’s commitment to produce an American work in each of the next ten seasons. The program begins with Dark Sisters, a new opera with music by Nico Muhly and a libretto by Stephen Karam, which is a co-commission and co-production with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group, both in New York. The story of one woman’s dangerous attempt to escape a polygamist sect, the opera premieres in New York in November 2011, with June 2012 performances in Philadelphia, where the OPERA America Conference will convene around the production.

A generous $1.4 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation made the Composer In Residence Program a reality. The nation’s first comprehensive, collaborative program for an opera composer’s development, OCP is partnering with New York’s Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group to provide a three year personalized track for two opera composers. Each artist will have the opportunity to cultivate his/her 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. The CIR will have exceptional access to observe and work hands-on in every aspect of creative development, production, and performance. While there is no pre-determined creative output required, works developed by the composers may be considered for performance by the collaborators. The first composer selection will be announced later in August 2011.

The Opera Company of Philadelphia held the first annual Chamber Opera Symposium (COS) in June 2011. This three-day, by-invitation conference brought leading producers and commissioners of chamber opera from the U.S., Canada and Europe together in Philadelphia for an in-depth, facilitated discussion of the future of this unique, intimately-scaled genre. This year’s COS convened around the American Premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s Phaedra; the 2012 COS will convene around the premiere of Nico Muhly's Dark Sisters. Funding is provided by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative.

2011-2012 SEASON

The Opera Company of Philadelphia 2011-2012 Season opens at the Academy of Music on Septemer 30, 2011 with Bizet’s Carmen, with a live, public simulcast of opening night on Independence Mall. In February, a new production of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio takes the stage, followed by Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in April. The Aurora Series for Chamber Opera at the Perelman Theatre features Curtis Opera Theatre’s Elegy for Young Lovers in association with Kimmel Center Presents in March, and OCP’s own Dark Sisters in June 2012. Subscriptions on sale through September at 215-732-8400 or Single tickets for Carmen go on sale on August 22, 2011 with Ticket Philadelphia at 215-893-1018.

To learn more about the season, please visit 

The Opening Night Philadelphia! Simulcast of CARMEN is made possible by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge. The Aurora Series for Chamber Opera at the Perelman Theater is generously underwritten by Wyncote FoundationUS Airways is the official airline of the Opera Company. YAMAHA is the official piano of the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Hyatt at the Bellevue is the official hotel of the Opera Company. Burdumy Motors Incorporated is the official automotive dealership of the Opera Company. Macy’s is the sponsor of Opera Overtures pre-opera talks before each performance. The Opera Company of Philadelphia is supported by major grants from The Andrew W. Mellon FoundationHorace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight FoundationThe Kresge Foundation, The Lenfest Foundation, The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative and the Philadelphia Music Project, The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Wallace FoundationThe William Penn Foundation and Wyncote Foundation. Additional support is provided by Beneficia Foundation, Independence Foundation, Jacob Burns Foundation, and OPERA America’s Opera Fund. The Opera Company of Philadelphia receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. General operating support is provided, in part, by the Philadelphia Cultural Fund