Press Release: April 18, 2023
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Announces 2024 Creative Cohort of the New Works Collective
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) has announced its slate of world premieres for the 2024 New Works Collective. Now in its second year, the New Works Collective is a disruptor in the American opera industry by soliciting nation-wide applications from aspiring creatives and submitting all entries to a community panel for adjudication. A group of ten St. Louis citizens independently selected the six artists who will create new operas in 2024.
Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton
Marianna Mott Newirth
J. Mae Barizo
The three teams are made up of composer Jasmine Barnes and librettist Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, composer J.E. Hernández and librettist Marianna Mott Newirth, and composer Ronald Maurice and librettist J. Mae Barizo. They will work closely with stage director Kimille Howard throughout the development process, collaborating with OTSL’s artistic leadership and staff to develop and workshop their 20-minute operas. All three pieces will then be performed as one suite of works in early March 2024.
“After a successful inaugural year, we’re elated to embark upon the second year of this fantastic initiative,” said Andrew Jorgensen, General Director. “This year’s cohort is brilliant, thoughtful, and highly collaborative; we’re thrilled to champion the stories they’ll be sharing. We’re grateful to the St. Louis community members who make up the New Works Collective for their time and care in choosing this cohort. And of course, none of this would be possible without the Mellon Foundation and the Edward Jones Foundation. We remain deeply appreciative of their belief in, and support of, this work.”
The first work of the 2024 New Works Collective is On My Mind by composer Jasmine Barnes and librettist Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. On My Mind tells the story of Lyric and Melody, who are caregivers during their grandmother’s and mother’s final days. As both women struggle to balance the toll of supporting a loved one, they lean on their friendship for strength. Through text messages and midnight calls, they process their grief and find moments of joy. Their ever-blooming friendship makes space for them to be vulnerable and connect more deeply, defying the stereotype that every Black woman must be strong, and instead build an indelible bond of sisterhood.
A resident artist in American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program, fast-rising composer Jasmine Barnes has premiered works at LA Opera, Washington National Opera, and Aspen Summer Music Festival, among others. Some of her upcoming premieres include collaborations with acclaimed singers Lawrence Brownlee, Will Liverman, Russell Thomas, and Karen Slack. She was featured in an “Artsworks” documentary titled “Dreamer,” aired by PBS. Librettist Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton is an internationally known writer, educator, activist, and performer. In 2017, Mouton was named the first Black Poet Laureate of Houston, Texas. Her work has appeared in Houston Noir (2019), Black Girl Magic (2019), the Texas Observer, Fjords Journal, and on such platforms as NPR, BBC, ABC, Apple News, Blavity, Upworthy, and across the TedX circuit. Mouton has collaborated with several Houston organizations, such as the Houston Ballet, Houston Rockets, and Houston Grand Opera.
The second opera in the 2024 New Works Collective is Mechanisms, by composer J.E. Hernández and librettist Marianna Mott Newirth. This work tells the story of a neurodivergent child and her inner experience as the outer world attempts to force behavioral conformity upon her, missing the greater insight she has into what humanity is becoming. This opera addresses questions of conformity, disability, and emergent strategy to reframe a world of possibilities.
Based in Houston, composer J.E. Hernández has had works featured at important institutions such as the Kennedy Center for the Arts, Houston Grand Opera, and the American Composers Forum, among many others. Some recent and upcoming projects include Desert Shelter, a piece for string sextet and dance which deals with the migrant experience, premiering at the Wortham Theater in 2023, a McKnight Visiting Composer Residency with American Composers Forum, and a fellowship with American Opera Project’s Composers & the Voice program. Librettist Marianna Mott Newirth keeps equally busy, serving as President of the New York Opera Alliance. The opera touch, with composer/librettist Carla Lucero, will mark Newirth’s first full-length commission as co-librettist in January 2024. Newirth has written for HowlRound Theatre Commons, studied puppetry with Sandglass Theater, is a Really Spicy Opera Librettist’s Fellow, and is co-founder of Opera Praktikos, New York City’s first disability-affirmative opera company.
Closing out the 2024 New Works Collective is Unbroken, by composer Ronald Maurice and librettist J. Mae Barizo. Set in urban St. Louis, Unbroken chronicles the resilient journey of a single mother and her three sons. A meditation on motherhood, Black life, and the histories that bind, Unbroken is a moving portrait of a city and its intergenerational ties, a testament to familial links that are challenged and survive.
St. Louis native Ronald Maurice has made his mark as a composer, music director, and educator. As a freelance composer, Ronald has written for Green United Music’s catalog for film directors, editors, and producers in Paris, France, and he’s directed productions in the orchestral, operatic, and musical theater worlds in St. Louis, Vienna, and throughout Italy. Currently, Ronald serves as the Director of Music at Xavier High School in New York City, where he oversees all aspects of the music program. In addition to his work at Xavier, Ronald also serves as an adjunct music professor at New York University. Librettist J. Mae Barizo is a poet, musician, multidisciplinary artist, and author of two books, The Cumulus Effect and Tender Machines. An inaugural recipient of Opera America’s IDEA residency, her opera on migration and climate change is currently in development at the National Opera Center. A champion of cross-genre work, she has collaborated with artists such as Beyoncé, John Legend, Mark Morris, and the American String Quartet. She is on the MFA faculty of The New School and lives in New York City.
All three of these operas will be directed by Kimille Howard, who has directed theater and opera productions around the country, including productions for The Glimmerglass Festival, Chicago Opera Theater, Wolf Trap Opera, White Snake Projects, and more. She has collaborated with James Robinson as Assistant Director for the Metropolitan Opera’s productions of Porgy and Bess and Champion and is a 2023 recipient of OPERA America’s Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Prize. Howard’s recent fellowships include the New York Theatre Workshop 2050 Fellowship and the Manhattan Theatre Club Jonathan Alper Directing Fellowship. She is a current member of The New Georges Directors Jam, a participant in New York Stage and Film’s inaugural NYSAF NEXUS project, a former Resident Director at the Flea Theater, and was the Series Producer for the first season of American Opera Project’s Music as the Message. Howard is the Artistic Director of the Lucille Lortel Theatre’s NYC Public High School Playwriting Fellowship and a co-founder of the Black Classical Music Archive.
About the New Works Collective
First announced in February 2022, Opera Theatre’s New Works Collective disrupts the traditional commissioning model for opera companies by giving decision-making power to its community through a collective of St. Louis residents. In establishing the collective, OTSL has intentionally sought out individuals from backgrounds historically underrepresented in opera, including a mix of artists, arts leaders, storytellers, activists, and community advisors who reach far beyond classical music.
The collective will select three projects each year through 2025 for OTSL to develop, workshop, and premiere. The New Works Collective brings new voices to the creative process and creates community partnerships that extend beyond a single project or production. The full list of New Works Collective panelists can be found at www.ExperienceOpera.org/NWCPanel.
The inaugural year of the New Works Collective was a critical success on all fronts, with tickets in high demand and a sold-out final performance. Approximately 37% of audiences were new to Opera Theatre, a testament to the power that new voices and stories have in bringing different segments of the community together to experience art.
Leadership support for the New Works Collective comes from the Mellon Foundation and the Edward Jones Foundation.