Beth Morrison Projects, PROTOTYPE and Trinity Church Wall Street Announce Five New Operas in Three Years

January 2, 2020
by BWW Newsdesk

Beth Morrison Projects (BMP) and Trinity Church Wall Street (Trinity), together with PROTOTYPE: Opera|Theatre|Now, are pleased to announce a multiyear partnership in which BMP and Trinity will commission and produce five cutting-edge new opera-theater works for premiere at the PROTOTYPE Festival over three seasons (2021-2023). These comprise a new work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer-director team Du Yun and Michael McQuilken; two new works by librettist Royce Vavrek, paired with Mary Kouyoumdjian and Julian Wachner, respectively; a work by composer Ted Hearne with text by Halim Flowers and rap from Momolu Stewart; and a work by Paola Prestini with poet Brenda Shaughnessy.

The 2021 offering is Du Yun and Michael McQuilken’s one-man opera-theater work for Nathan Gunn, In Our Daughter’s Eyes. PROTOTYPE 2022 will showcase two new works: Adoration, by composer Mary Kouyoumdjian and librettist Royce Vavrek, and The Slaying of Innocence, composed by Ted Hearne to text by Halim Flowers with rap from Momolu Stewart, which is being developed in conjunction with the New England Innocence Project. The 2023 festival will present both the New York premiere of Sensorium Ex, by composer Paola Prestini and poet Brenda Shaughnessy, and the world premiere of Broadview Christ by composer Julian Wachner, Trinity’s Director of Music and the Arts, and Royce Vavrek. By way of an upbeat to the new partnership, Wachner’s REV. 23, composed to a libretto by Cerise Jacobs, will receive its New York premiere at PROTOTYPE 2020.

For more than five years, BMP, PROTOTYPE and Trinity have changed the landscape of opera-theater by collaborating in various ways to develop provocative new works, two of which have been recognized with the Pulitzer Prize for music: Du Yun and Michael McQuilken’s Angel’s Bone (PROTOTYPE 2016, awarded 2017), which was commissioned by BMP and HERE and produced in association with Trinity, and Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins’s p r i s m (PROTOTYPE 2018, awarded 2019), which was commissioned by BMP and developed and produced in association with Trinity. Wachner and Jacobs’s REV. 23 comes from Boston to PROTOTYPE 2020 this month for its New York premiere, having been praised for its “endlessly creative score” by Classical Voice North America. Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s Breaking the Waves, commissioned by BMP and Opera Philadelphia and presented by PROTOTYPE in association with Trinity, was named “Best New Opera” by the Music Critics Association of North America (PROTOTYPE 2017) and has garnered wide acclaim around the globe, with performances on the East and West coasts of America as well as in Europe and Australia. The revamped production of Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman’s “unmissable” and “sublime” (Time Out New York) Acquanetta (PROTOTYPE 2018) was produced by BMP in association with Trinity and its subsequent recording, released in 2019, features members of The Choir of Trinity Wall Street. Additional collaborations include of time and place, a concert pairing of two Trinity-commissioned choral oratorio works: Ellen Reid’s dreams of the new world and David T. Little’s Am I Born (PROTOTYPE 2019). Trinity and BMP previously collaborated with Reid in 2015 on a PROTOTYPE Festival concert of Winter’s Child at Trinity’s St. Paul’s Chapel; this featured the Trinity Youth Chorus, NOVUS NY and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street under the musical direction of Julian Wachner.

Longtime collaborators, Beth Morrison and Julian Wachner met in 1990 at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute. The 2010 VOX Contemporary American Opera Lab was produced that year by Beth Morrison and featured Julian Wachner as conductor and composer alongside other visionaries Du Yun, David T. Little, Paola Prestini, Missy Mazzoli and the sought-after librettist Royce Vavrek. Since the festival, these artists have continued to partner one another and champion each others’ works and successes, becoming major forces in the creation, development and production of the 21st-century operatic canon.

Also featured in the 2010 VOX Festival was Michael Gordon‘s Acquanetta, an homage to the campy and spine-chilling horror films of the 1940s. Acquanettaa??combines theater, opera and film to explore the world of a real-life B-movie star with a mysterious past. With a soaring and often comic score from Bang on a Can co-founder Gordon and text by librettist Deborah Artman, Acquanetta examines the ways the movie camera manipulates how we see and are seen. The revamped 2018 PROTOTYPE Festival staging of Acquanetta was produced by BMP in association with Trinity and the subsequent recording (Cantaloupe 2019) features members of The Choir of Trinity Wall Street.

Named “Best New Opera” by the Music Critics Association of North America, Breaking the Waves is a psychological drama about marital vows and sacrificial love, based on the film by Lars von Trier. Composed by Missy Mazzoli to a libretto by Royce Vavrek, it was co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and BMP and its New York premiere was co-presented by PROTOTYPE Festival and Trinity in 2017. Lauded as “luminaries from the new-music scene” (New York Times), Trinity’s NOVUS NY performed under Wachner’s leadership in this New York premiere.

The world premiere of Ellen Reid’s p r i s m, the latest Pulitzer-winning collaboration commissioned and produced by BMP in association with Trinity, was presented by LA Opera in November 2018 at REDCAT in Los Angeles, with Wachner leading The Choir of Trinity Church Wall Street. The same forces then joined NOVUS NY for the work’s East Coast premiere at the 2019 PROTOTYPE Festival. The opera explores the theme of sexual assault trauma and its aftermath, through librettist Roxie Perkins’s tale of an ill girl and her mother, who both cares for her daughter and isolates her from the world. The production will be reprised this spring in two performances at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, once again featuring Wachner, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and NOVUS NY (March 13 & 14, 2020).

Trinity’s recording of p r i s m was released in August 2019 on the Decca Gold label. After the Los Angeles premiere last season, Parterre Box called the opera “mesmerizingly beautiful,” and the glowing critical reception extended to Trinity’s performers. Praising the “lush, eerie harmonies of an invisible chorus,” the New Yorker declared the choir to be “one of the nation’s best.” The New York Times agreed: “Ellen Reid’s score is accessible in the best way, disconcertingly sweet without being syrupy, with occasional whispers of choral voices so soft they’re almost more odor than sound. The truly prismatic Choir of Trinity Wall Street is astonishing here; Trinity’s new-music ensemble, NOVUS NY, plays beautifully under Julian Wachner.” BMP and Trinity previously collaborated with Reid on Winter’s Child in 2015, in a PROTOTYPE Festival concert featuring the Trinity Youth Chorus, NOVUS NY and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street under Wachner’s direction at St Paul’s Chapel. Composed by Reid to a libretto by Amanda Jane Shank, Winter’s Child is set in a Southern gothic landscape and reveals a world of rough earth and quiet prayer, where a mother fights to change her youngest daughter’s fate.

Additional collaborations include of time and place, a concert of two Trinity-commissioned works by Reid and Little, which was also featured at the 2019 PROTOTYPE Festival. The works explore what has been lost for the sake of progress within the vernacular of specific times and places. Reid’s choral oratorio dreams of the new world (libretto by Sarah LaBrie) portrays little-known, interview-based stories about the pursuit of the American dream in Memphis (1890), Houston (1970) and Los Angeles (2018). Am I Born by Little, written to a libretto by Vavrek, discovers lost histories, altered places and the spiritual bleed at the intersection of modernity and antiquity. Both works were premiered and recorded by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and NOVUS NY, with Wachner at the helm.

This past October, BMP presented Angel’s Bone, with Wachner as music director, as the highlight of the operatic offerings at the Beijing Music Festival, where Du Yun was celebrated as the first female Chinese composer in history to receive the Pulitzer Prize. The opera melds chamber music, theater, punk rock, opera, cabaret and electronics while exploring the dark effects of and motivations behind modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Angel’s Bone has long been championed by Trinity and BMP; it was workshopped at the church in 2014, and the staged world premiere was produced by Beth Morrison Projects in association with Trinity in 2016, when it was presented by the PROTOTYPE Festival and performed by The Choir of Trinity Church Wall Street and NOVUS NY under Wachner’s leadership. Wachner will again join BMP this spring to give the opera its West Coast premiere at LA Opera (May 1-3, 2020).

Trinity’s long-term relationship with the PROTOTYPE Festival and its co-producer, BMP, also yields this season’s New York premiere of Wachner’s latest opera, REV. 23. Premiered in Boston in 2017, REV. 23 is composed to a libretto by Cerise Jacobs that adds a satirical twist to an imagined final chapter of the biblical Book of Revelation. With musical direction by Daniela Candillari, the new production is directed by James Darrah, and takes place at John Jay College’s Gerald Lynch Theater in Manhattan (Jan 17 & 18, 2020).