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Opera companies establish workshop to diversify the art form

MassOpera and OperaHub partner to bring more diverse voices to opera

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Opera companies establish workshop to diversify the art form
Scenes from productions by MassOpera (left) and OperaHub. The companies have joined forces to change the landscape of opera. COURTESY PHOTOS

MassOpera and OperaHub have partnered to launch a reimagined New Opera Workshop (NOW) program that will find, foster and produce a contemporary opera led by diverse voices. Their goal is to change the landscape of opera and to establish a contemporary opera canon. A call for submissions is open now through July 15, with creatives of all kinds, with or without opera experience, encouraged to apply.

NOW was born from a desire to push opera forward. “We love the musical aesthetics … but we are tired of putting on stories that don’t reflect our values or our experiences,” says Christie Gibson, OperaHub’s general director. “We want to see a lot more people writing in a space that is contemporary.”

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This means bringing in more diverse voices in terms of race, gender, economic background and other life experiences. Opera as a medium has stood the test of time for its power and grandeur, but in order to evolve, all the damsels can’t be in distress and all the storytellers can’t be white.

MassOpera has participated in a number of development programs for operas, but this is the first time the group is producing a show from inception to premiere. Cassandra Lovering, producing artistic director for MassOpera, says the way the opera is made is crucial to the process.

“Often times the creation process is very top-down,” says Lovering. “[This program] is about empowering artists and creating space for a process that’s specific to each creator that we’re collaborating with, meeting them where they are and then supporting them in the way that will really grow the piece to its fullest potential.”

The NOW program will work with one opera creator (or set of creators) chosen from the open call submissions. The finalists will be announced in August and the project or projects chosen for production will be announced in January 2021. From there, the production will go through a series of workshops and semi-staged performances to hone the work before the premiere. Currently the timeline is set for the process to take up most of 2021.

“An opera might have beautiful music, music that could bring you to tears. But then it’s partnered with a story that does not stand the test of time,“ says Lovering. “Because the music is in many ways inseparable from the story, it’s more important than ever now to ensure that they are reflecting who we are now. If opera is really going to live on for hundreds more years, it needs to change.”

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