Pride Month 2019: 13 Contemporary Composers & Librettists Who Are Out & Proud

By Francisco Salazar

It’s Pride Month, so to celebrate we return to the series we began two years. This time we celebrate some of the great composers and librettists of today who have made a great impact in the opera world and whose works have given a voice to the voiceless.

Jake Heggie

Heggie is one of the most prolific composers of the 21st century as his works have become part of the standard repertoire. His first opera “Dead Man Walking” made its world premiere at the San Francisco Opera and has since been presented in major companies like Atlanta Opera, Minnesota Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Semperoper Dresden, Theater an der Wien, and the Teatro Real among others.

Susan Graham, Frederica Von Stade, and Joyce DiDonato have been huge advocates for the work. His subsequent works have included “Great Scott,” which was written for DiDonato, Von Stade, Ailyn Perez, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Nathan Gunn and had its world premiere at the Dallas Opera; and “Moby Dick” which had its world premiere at the Dallas Opera in 2010 and has since been shown at the LA Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera. Other works include “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Again,” “The End of the Affair,” “Three Decembers,” and “Another Sunrise,” among others.

Nico Muhly

Muhly is one of the most influential composers of his generation. The composer has transcended into the mainstream composing for such popular shows as “Mozart in the Jungle” and the Academy Award-winning film “The Reader.”

Throughout his career, he has composed three operas. His first was “Dark Sisters” and in 2011 he made “Two Boys,” which contained LGBT themes and which was showcased at the English National Opera and Metropolitan Opera. His latest opera “Marnie” made its world premiere at the English National Opera and was then brought to the Metropolitan Opera starring Isabel Leonard. The opera was broadcast worldwide through the Met’s Live in HD series.

Iain Bell

The English composer has made an impact throughout Europe. He has composed numerous orchestral pieces and song cycles dedicated to some of the world’s greatest singers in the world. Bell’s first opera “A Harlot’s Progress” was written for Diana Damrau. The opera had its world premiere at the Theater an der Wien in 2013.

He then went on to showcase “A Christmas Carol,” which had its world premiere at the Houston Grand Opera in 2014. Following that he wrote “In Parenthesis,” which premiered at the Welsh National Opera and was conducted under Carlo Rizzi in 2016.

In 2019, the English National Opera world premiered “Jack the Ripper” to rave reviews. His fifth opera will be “Stonewall” which was commissioned by the New York City Opera and it will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The opera will also be the first work written for a Transgender singer.

Paula Kimper

Kimper is one of the most prolific women composers of her generation. She wrote the groundbreaking “Patience and Sarah” for Lincoln Center, making it the first opera to tackle lesbian themes. Since the 1998 premiere, the work has been revived all around the United States and Kimper has written such works as “The Captivation of Eunice Williams,” “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” and “TRUTH, An American Opera about Sojourner Truth.” She is currently the director of the Executive Committee of NYOA.

Tobias Picker

Picker, who is the artistic director of the Tulsa Opera, has written several orchestral works and vocal song cycles that have been performed all over the world. Throughout his career, he has written five acclaimed operas.

His first came in 1995, “Emmeline,” which was commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera. The opera was subsequently broadcast nationally on the PBS Great Performances series and the premiere recording was released on CD. His second opera “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” has its world premiere at the LA Opera and was later turned into a chamber opera premiering at Opera Holland. The third opera “Thérèse Raquin” went on to be performed at The Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, the Royal Opera House, and the Opéra de Montréal.

During the 2005-06 season, Picker presented his fourth opera “An American Tragedy” at the Metropolitan Opera. The work, which was the last world premiere presented at the famed opera house, starred Patricia Racette, Nathan Gunn, Susan Graham, and Dolora Zajick and was directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by James Conlon. His most recent opera “Dolores Claiborne” had its world premiere at the San Francisco Opera in 2013.

Jimmy Lopez

Lopez is one of the rising stars in the classical world. He has composed numerous orchestral works to critical acclaim. His first opera came in 2015 as part of the Renée Fleming Initiative. The Lyric Opera of Chicago commissioned the opera “Bel Canto” and the work had its world premiere on December 7, 2015, to wide critical acclaim. The work starred Danielle De Niese and was later broadcast throughout the US on Great Performances.

Jennifer Higdon

A professor at Curtis Institute, the composer has written works for such acclaimed artists as baritone Thomas Hampson, pianists Yuja Wang and Gary Graffman, violinists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Jennifer Koh, and Hilary Hahn. She has worked with The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony, The Atlanta Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, and The Pittsburgh Symphony, among others.

Her first opera “Cold Mountain” had its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera starring Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn. The work had subsequent performances in North Carolina and Philadelphia and was even nominated for a Grammy award for the recording produced on Pentatone.

Laura Kaminsky

The composer from New York is best known for her chamber opera “As One,” which has the distinction of being the most performed contemporary work. Since its 2014 world premiere at BAM, the work has been performed by the New York City Opera, Alamo City Opera, Seattle Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Eugene Opera, San Diego Opera, Cincinnati Opera, and the National Opera Center, among others.

Mark Campbell

The librettist and lyricist has become one of the most in-demand in the business. He has written 16 operas and has collaborated with such composers as Kevin Puts, Laura Kaminsky, Mason Bates, and Paul Moravec. Among his most acclaimed works are “As One” and “Silent Night.” Both operas have been produced all over the United States and “Silent Night” has already had its international premiere. His recent opera “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” won a Grammy and his upcoming opera “Stonewall” will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and will have its world premiere at the New York City Opera.

Ricky Ian Gordon

Gordon has written 11 operas and numerous choral, and vocal song cycles. He has mainly dedicated his work to voice and has garnered great appeal. His most famous work is without a doubt “The Grapes of Wrath,” which had its world premiere at the Minnesota Opera and Utah Opera. It has since been performed with numerous companies. His other work “a Coffin in Eygpt” was dedicated to Frederica Von Stade and was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera and performed at Opera Philadelphia.  His upcoming work “Ellen West” will make its world premiere at Opera Saratoga.

Thomas Adès

The English composer is best known for his difficult vocal writing. In total he has written three operas including “Powder Her Face,” “The Tempest’ and “The Exterminating Angel.” all three have obtained international appeal with the latter two the most popular. “The Exterminating Angel” has been showcased at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, and the Salzburg Festival. The work has also been released on DVD from the Met. Meanwhile, “The Tempest” has been showcased at the Met, Hungarian State Opera, and Royal Opera House. The work has been recorded at the Royal Opera and the Metropolitan Opera with Simon Keenlyside one of the most important exponents of the work.

Gregory Spears

The Virginian composer is perhaps most famous for his opera “Fellow Travelers.” The work had its world premiere at the Cincinnati Opera and has since been presented at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Minnesota Opera. A recording was also released and the work has since become one of the most acclaimed in contemporary opera. He has also composed other LGBT related operas such as “Paul’s Case” and his song cycles have also immersed audiences into the themes.

Rufus Wainwright

A recognized American-Canadian singer-songwriter crossed over to the opera world and has thus far written two operas. His first “Prima Donna,” was released by Deutsche Grammophon and starred Janis Kelly in the title role. The second work, “Hadrian,” made its world premiere at the Canadian Opera Company and starred Thomas Hampson and Karita Mattila in the lead roles. The work also saw Ben Heppner leave retirement to sing a smaller supporting role.


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