Des Moines Opera Announces Extended Version of ‘American Apollo’

By Logan Martell

Des Moines Opera has announced the commission of an expanded version of Damien Geter and Lila Palmer’s opera “American Apollo.”

Originally commissioned by Washington National Opera for its 2020-21 season, the full-length work will see its world premiere in 2024, where it will be presented in partnership with Pyramid Theatre Company and the Des Moines Art Center.

The opera centers on a pivotal but overlooked figure of American art: Thomas Eugene McKeller, a black model who served as the inspiration for the works of iconic portrait painter John Singer Sargent. McKeller would become the basis for a number of Sargent’s murals in the Museum of Fine Arts.

“’American Apollo’ is a piece that delves into issues related to race, class, and sexuality, which were glossed over during Thomas McKeller’s lifetime,” said composer Damien Geter. “Given the climate and conversations happening today, it is our hope that we might give the characters in this opera the opportunity to reckon with these issues, even if only in spirit. The opportunity to revisit and expand this work allows us to more deeply consider their situations with the hope that we will be able to express that which makes us more alike than different, more human than not.”

The original, 20-minute version will be presented by DMO in 2022 as part of its 50th Anniversary Season, with the full-length version receiving a $100,000 gift from Harry Bookey and Pamela Bass-Bookey towards its production.