Opera Profile: Judd Greenstein’s ‘A Marvelous Order’

By John Vandevert

“A Marvelous Order” is the first opera of American composer Judd Greenstein in collaboration with librettist Tracy K. Smith and visual artist Joshua Frankel.

Using projected visuals and vocal samples, the opera invigorates the standard libretto-composer model that opera tends to use. Focusing on a fight over city space during the 1960s in New York City, the opera attempted to center the discussion around the crisis of housing and ownership of urban spaces. The negotiation of space, personal philosophies, and life itself are pitted against each other.

The Story

Set in the American 1960s in New York City, the opera focuses on the real-life rivalry between urban planner Robert Moses and activist Jane Jacobs, specifically the controversial fight to control Washington Square Park and the neighborhoods surrounding the Lower Manhattan Expressway. However, the story goes beyond the feuding to preserve the urban spaces in New York City and instead focuses on the larger narratives of protest, questioning authority, and the ways in which urban development effects both those inside and outside the city limits. 

The opera was begun prior to 2016 and had its first semi-premiere in 2016 at the ’62 Center for Theater and Dance, a part of Williams College in New York. Following the showing, in 2017 another excerpt was premiered, this time at the Fulton Center as part of the River to River Festival. Flash to 2021, and several more parts of the opera would be shown in the Brooklyn Public Library, before finally having its official premiere in October of 2022 at the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State University. Reviews praised the opera for its innovation and remarked the way in which Jane’s image was enriched. Others focused on the way in which this historical feud of urban planning was broadened and deepend for audiences.

The cast of the 2022 premiere featured many prominent singers of our contemporary generation including new music vocalist Megan Schubert as Jane Jacobs, Rinde Eckert as Robert Moses, and a cast including Melisa Bonetti, Kelvin Chan, and Tomás Cruz, among many others. 


Check out a few excerpts from the opera.


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