Published12 May 2023
Ten years of operatic innovation spotlighted in Composing the Future, now streaming free on the Opera Philadelphia Channel
Over the past decade, Opera Philadelphia has garnered a reputation as one of the nation’s most innovative opera companies and a proponent of new opera written by a fresh generation of American composers. In Composing the Future, a documentary now streaming for free on the Opera Philadelphia Channel, the company looks back on how that reputation was earned through the company’s unique Composer in Residence program, which launched in 2011 as the nation’s first comprehensive training program for artists wanting to learn how to write an opera.
The 90-minute film brings together all eight Composers in Residence who have participated in the program – Lembit Beecher, Courtney Bryan, David Hertzberg, David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, Rene Orth, and Tyshawn Sorey. Together, these musicians have created more than 20 new operas, including such acclaimed world premieres as Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves (2016) and Hertzberg's The Wake World (2017), both of which won the Music Critics Association of North America Awards for Best New Opera.
The composers discuss their professional development and memories from the program, alongside reflections from General Director & President David B. Devan and Director of New Works & Creative Producer Sarah Williams. Funded by the Mellon Foundation, Opera Philadelphia’s Composer in Residence program has and continues to foster tomorrow’s masterpieces, with celebrated Opera Philadelphia world premieres like Breaking the Waves, The Wake World, Sky on Swings, and the forthcoming 10 Days in a Madhouse developed by composers during their time in the program.
The film also includes concert performances of operatic works performed at a celebration held on Saturday, March 18, in the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, site of numerous Opera Philadelphia world premieres. Performing in concert are world-renowned artists like tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who sang an excerpt from Sorey’s Cycles of My Being, which he premiered with Opera Philadelphia and then went on to perform at Carnegie Hall and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Soprano Sharleen Joynt also returned to Philadelphia to sing an aria from the role she created in the World Premiere of Beecher’s Sky on Swings in 2018. Also performing is soprano Ashley Milanese, singing the opening aria “His Name is Jan” from Breaking the Waves, back in the same theater where the opera premiered in 2016; and mezzo-soprano Amanda Bottoms singing “My Daughter” from Orth’s forthcoming opera 10 Days in a Madhouse, based on the work of journalist Nellie Bly, which receives its world premiere in September 2023.
The concert also features excerpts from four works never performed live in Philadelphia: mezzo-soprano Aryssa Leigh Burrs performing “You Shiver” from Little’s JFK; soprano Tiffany Townsend performing excerpts from Bryan’s Blessed; soprano Kara Goodrich and tenor Alek Shrader performing a duet from Norman’s A Trip to the Moon; and mezzo-soprano Sun-Ly Pierce performing “Drift, darling, drift” from Hertzberg’s The Rose Elf.
Composing the Future was produced by Shannon Eblen, Adele Mustardo, and Sarah Williams. Video and editing by Dave Tavani. The film is available free at operaphila.tv/cir.