Opera Theatre of Saint Louis to Showcase Three Genre Bending World Premieres

By Francisco Salazar

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has announced the stories of three ground-breaking 20-minute operas commissioned for its 2023 New Works Collective.

The company said that five composers and librettists have deftly woven together musical influences spanning rock, funk, jazz, blues, and more to create a soundscape that is wholly unique and completely American.

The initiative, which was first announced in February 2022 is the first by an American opera company that invites open submissions from across the country and allows its community to independently select projects for further development.

In a statement, Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, stage director and community consultant for the New Works Collective said, “What’s really cool about this program is that this has never actually been done before. Usually in this industry, an institution tells artists what they can do. But by giving the power to the community, this is the first time where the community really has a voice and can choose artists who may otherwise have been bypassed. This is a north star moment for American opera, and I hope that many, many will follow for years to come.”

The first work of the series is “Cook Shack” by Del’Shawn Taylor and Samiya Bashir. The work tells the story of Dayo who struggles to fit in at school. Like so many other young girls, she hides her true potential in order to fly under the radar.

The second work is “Slanted: An American Rock Opera” by Simon Tam and Joe X. Jiang. The work is set in 2017 when an Asian American dance rock band called The Slants went to the Supreme Court to fight for the right to use their name. Now, real-life protagonists Tam and Jiang are setting their judicial experience to music — including a powerful lesson on free speech and bridging political divides from the late and prophetic Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Finally, the final work is “Madison Lodge by Tre’von Griffith. The work tells the story of X migrates from the South to the mecca of Harlem, desperate to escape their small-minded town. X’s life is forever changed when they are introduced to drag balls and find a community where they can discover their voice, celebrate their humanity, and be their authentic self.