Opera Company names second composer in residence

Missy Mazzoli, a Lansdale native, was chosen from 106 applicants. STEPHEN S. TAYLOR
Missy Mazzoli, a Lansdale native, was chosen from 106 applicants. STEPHEN S. TAYLOR
Posted: June 14, 2012

Deepening its pledge to advance the art form, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group in New York, has appointed a second composer in residence.

Missy Mazzoli, 31, a Lansdale native now based in Brooklyn, was chosen from 106 applicants and begins her work in September, joining Lembit Beecher, the previously appointed composer in his second year of the three-year shared residency. The post pays $60,000 plus benefits.

Said Mazzoli: "I'm very excited about the residency, to say the least. I have preliminary ideas for two new operas, and I'm hoping to be able to workshop both.?... I can't really share the details just yet, but will say that both are part of a trilogy of operas I'm writing about fascinating female characters of the 20th and 21st centuries."

Mazzoli — who has described her style as a "blend of dreamy post-rock, quirky minimalism and rich romanticism" — has written works for eighth blackbird, Kronos Quartet, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and violinist Jennifer Koh, and the Santa Fe Chamber Players, and has won four ASCAP Young Composer Awards and a Fulbright Grant for study in the Netherlands. She has degrees from Boston University and the Yale School of Music, and studied at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague.

Her application for the residency came after Opera Company of Philadelphia general director David Devan heard one of Mazzoli's works, Song From the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt, and encouraged her publisher, G. Schirmer Inc., to toss her hat into the ring. Devan and representatives from the other two troupes listened to recordings of about 30 composers, a pool winnowed from the original 106 by the opera company's new-works administrator, Kyle Bartlett.

"She was the one who just really needs to write opera the most, she has it in her," said Devan. "She wrote and produced her own opera because this is something she needed to do as her primary form of artistic expression."

Mazzoli called that opera's creation "a life-changing experience. It helped me realize that opera was going to be a huge part of my life."

The shared-residency program is funded over five years by a $1.4? million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In a February review of Mazzoli's Song From the Uproar, the New York Times admired the "shimmering, surging, post-Minimalist flow." In her score, wrote critic Steve Smith, "you felt the joy, risk, and limitless potential of free spirits unbound."

Mazzoli — who likes to collaborate with other artists, and who often gravitates toward alternative venues — is aware that she is part of an evolving art form.

"It's fascinating that, just as the recession started, all these young composers decided they were going to tackle music's most expensive and complicated genre," she said. "I think there's something about opera that speaks to our generation, and something about it that makes it a powerful storytelling tool for the 21st century. I don't know if it's the MTV influence or just our overstimulated times, but young composers seem to gravitate towards large-scale multimedia and theatrical works, and opera is a perfect fit."

Devan said Mazzoli's appointment was part of a bigger picture developing at the opera company.

"If you think about: Lembit is 31, Missy is 31, Nico [Muhly, whose Dark Sisters is currently being staged by the Opera Company] is 30. Just at this point at the Opera Company of Philadelphia to have all these three completely different voices, all of whom are going to have some impact in the field, is more than I ever dreamed possible."

Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/artswatch.

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