Sorey's new Digital Short brings to the screen "Death," a poem by pioneering Black writer Paul Laurence Dunbar

(Los Angeles) February 10, 2021 — Beginning February 19, LA Opera presents the online world premiere of Death, a new Digital Short showcasing the music of one of the most celebrated composers of our time, Tyshawn Sorey.

The project unites Sorey, a 2017 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (unofficially known as the "Genius Grant"), with the Emmy-nominated filmmaker Nadia Hallgren, director of the acclaimed 2020 Michelle Obama documentary Becoming. 

The new Digital Short features Sorey's newly commissioned musical setting of the short poem "Death" by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), the most influential Black poet of his time. The piece is performed by mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms and pianist Howard Watkins. Sorey himself is also featured in the film, speaking about his work.

Part of the company's On Now platform of online programming, Digital Shorts are new commissions which pair gifted composers and visual artists. Digital Shorts are offered free of charge to all viewers.

Death will be streamed on LA Opera's Facebook and YouTube channel. For viewing details and additional information, visit

Creators and Artists

Newark-born multi-instrumentalist and composer Tyshawn Sorey is celebrated for his extraordinary ability to blend composition and improvisation in his work. He has composed works for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the International Contemporary Ensemble, soprano Julia Bullock, PRISM Quartet, JACK Quartet, TAK Ensemble, the McGill-McHale Trio, bass-baritone Davóne Tines, Alarm Will Sound and the Louisville Orchestra. A song from Sorey's 2018 song cycle Cycles of My Being was performed by tenor Lawrence Brownlee during his 2020 Living Room Recital for LA Opera. His music has been performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Kennedy Center, Village Vanguard, Ojai Music Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, Kimmel Center, and the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. He was a 2017 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Nadia Hallgren is an award-winning filmmaker and director of photography. She is the director of Becoming, a documentary about former First Lady Michelle Obama, which was released on Netflix and was nominated for four Emmys including Best Director, Best Cinematographer and Best Documentary Feature. After Maria, a documentary short, tells the story of three mothers displaced by Hurricane Maria. It was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2019. She won the special jury prize at SXSW 2018 for She’s the Ticket, an independent episodic series about women running for office in response to Trump’s election. 

Born to freed slaves from Kentucky, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) became one of the first influential Black poets in American literature and was internationally acclaimed for his dialectic verse in collections such as Majors and Minors (1895) and Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). But the dialectic poems constitute only a small portion of Dunbar’s canon, which is replete with novels, short stories, essays, and many poems in standard English. In its entirety, Dunbar’s literary body is regarded as an impressive representation of Black life in turn-of-the-century America. His poem "Death" was published in his 1903 collection Lyrics of Love and Laughter.  

Mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms is a member of the Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera and a soloist with the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago and New York Festival of Song. Recent work includes roles in The Magic Flute and The Consul with Washington National Opera. She debuted with Opera Philadelphia as Smeraldina in The Love for Three Oranges and headlined the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society Emerging Voices recital series. Recent concert work includes collaborations with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo under Paavo Järvi.

Pianist Howard Watkins is a frequent associate of some of the world’s leading musicians on the concert stage; he is also an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. His international appearances include collaborations with singers Joyce DiDonato, Diana Damrau, Kathleen Battle, Grace Bumbry, Mariusz Kwiecień, Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani as well as violinists Xiang Gao and Sarah Chang at such venues as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spivey Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Pierpont Morgan Library, the United States Supreme Court, Alice Tully Hall with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the three stages of Carnegie Hall, and the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

About LA Opera On Now 

The Digital Shorts series, which launched in December with The Three Moons of Lorca by composer Gabriela Lena Frank, is part of LA Opera's On Now platform of digital programming. LA Opera was the first major American opera company to create a weekly schedule of original new online programming to bring opera to audiences during the coronavirus crisis. As the company awaits its cue to return to the stage with world-class productions in theaters, it is offering a variety of online content including newly commissioned performances, live recitals, opera broadcasts and learning opportunities via its On Now digital offerings, which have accumulated over 795,000 views since its launch on March 17, 2020. 

About LA Opera

Los Angeles is a city of enormous diversity and creativity, and LA Opera is dedicated to reflecting that vibrancy by redefining what opera can be with thrilling performances, thought-provoking productions and innovative programming. The communal and curative power of opera is needed now more than ever before, especially given the extraordinary challenges of the time. The company is grateful to its supporters for helping to ensure that it has the resources needed to get through this unprecedented period through the LA Opera Relief Fund. Those wanting to support LA Opera can go to

LA Opera Media Contact 
Vanessa Flores Waite
Director of Communications 

Generous support comes from a consortium of donors to LA Opera’s Contemporary Opera Initiative, chaired by Barry and Nancy Sanders.

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