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Opera-tionally Unstoppable

Posted on: May 12, 2020

And the Pulitzer goes to... an opera, for three out of the last four years (which, in the centuries of opera’s life, is a new streak). Du Yun’s Angel’s Bone won first in 2017. Ellen Reid’s p r i s m followed in 2019, and most recently, Anthony Davis’ The Central Park Five took the honor earlier this month.  

What makes this even more special is just how close to home these productions are. We were fortunate enough to stage the world premiere of p r i s m on the REDCAT stage as part of our Off Grand series in 2018.  

Per the Pulitzer committee, p r i s m was hailed as "[a] bold new operatic work that uses sophisticated vocal writing and striking instrumental timbres to confront difficult subject matter: the effects of sexual and emotional abuse." 

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A shot from p r i s m (Credit: Larry Ho)

In an interview with the organization, composer Ellen Reid said, “I think that awards like the Pulitzer Prize, for better or for worse, influence the way we perceive who is allowed to make music and what music is. I run a mentorship program for young female identifying, gender non-conforming and non-binary composers with Missy Mazzoli. The first thought I had when I heard the Pulitzer news was that I can’t wait for these young composers to skyrocket past us! Through our successes, they can see a future for themselves in the field. I am grateful to be part of the conversation. We have so much further to go.” 

We were also set to givAngel’s Bone the spotlight at The Broad Stage a few weeks ago (but for obvious reasons, there was a change of plans). But one thing that won’t change for Du Yun is herself. In an interview with NPR she said, "I'll still be me — who is very plugged into social change," she said. "That's the biggest impetus of why I want to write music... I'm always going to use music, use culture as a tool to engage people to have this dialog, to enable others. That's very important." 

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A scene from Angel's Bone, as performed at the New Vision Arts Festival in Hong Kong in 2018. (Credit: Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department)

The most recent winner, Anthony Davis’ opera The Central Park Fivefeels especially close to home—literally, and well, geographically. The production centered around the notorious case of the same name was commissioned by our neighbors over at Long Beach Opera.  

The Pulitzer committee called Davis’ production, a courageous operatic work, marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration, that skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful.” 

In a 2019 interview with the LA Times, Davis said, “Opera is sometimes off-putting for our community. We can make it ours, make it serve our purposes and serve the purpose of telling our stories.” 

And there are still so many stories to be told. Opera is not linear, and there is no one way to compose, perform, or produce it. This recent streak in the forefront of the musical world serves as a testament to just how resilient this art form is, and how contemporary composers like those above (and not listed) are leaving their mark in opera.