Composer Missy Mazzoli On Creating ‘Lincoln In the Bardo’ For the Metropolitan Opera

By David Salazar

A little over a month ago, the news struck that the Metropolitan Opera would be bringing in a plethora of new works, branching out its operations to new venues, and would be bringing in women composers to expand its creative output.

Among those composers is Missy Mazzoli, whose profile as a leading composer has rocketed in the last few years. Her first work was “Song From the Uproar.”

Then she expanded her views toward a bigger work, taking on “Breaking the Waves,” which she based on Lars von Trier’s iconic film. The 2016 opera, featuring a libretto by Royce Vavrek, was a massive hit and really pushed Mazzoli to the forefront of modern composers. She followed that one with “Proving Up,” which had its world premiere at the Washington National Opera in January.

And now comes the Met, which approached Mazzoli in early summer of 2018 to create a new work for the company.

“It’s an absolute dream come true to have a work performed by this company; I’ve wanted to write for the Met since I saw my first opera there in 1999,” Mazzoli told OperaWire, noting that the first opera she saw was Berg’s “Wozzeck” and that it was “epic” and “life-changing.” “The Met attracts the best singers, directors, and designers in the world, and I’m incredibly excited about making work there.”

The work in question will be “Lincoln in the Bardo,” which is based on the book by George Saunders. She had read it previously and had immediately known that it had “operatic scope.”

“It includes a huge cast of characters, and tackles big themes about fatherhood, death, grief, and the mystery of the unknown,” she noted. “George Saunders is one of my favorite writers, and his work has a bit of everything: comedy, humanity, and a surreality that will translate perfectly to a stage adaptation.

Mazzoli noted that the opera will be her biggest to date and will feature her first massive ensemble cast. To this point, her biggest opera has been “Breaking the Waves,” which featured nine principal singers and a men’s chorus. “Proving Up” is made up of two sopranos, a mezzo-soprano, a tenor, a baritone, and a bass. Moreover, both of her larger works have included chamber orchestra; this one is set to use the Met Opera Orchestra to its potential.

But Mazzoli’s projects with the Metropolitan Opera will not be limited to just one large opera. Her chamber works will get new life with the company as well when the Met heads to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for some performances.

“The Lincoln Center house is my favorite spot in the city, but it’s just too big to serve anything but works written on an incredibly large scale,” Mazzoli noted. “By branching out to Brooklyn, the Met has an opportunity to expand their repertoire (particularly to include contemporary work not usually composed for huge forces) and reach a new audience.”

“Proving Up” has a few premieres coming its way, though Mazzoli also noted that she is working on another big opera that is set to premiere before “Lincoln in the Bardo.” She is also preparing a new ballet for the National Ballet of Canada.


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