receives a Commissioning Grant
from OPERA America
for the Orchestration of Animal Tales
Ardea Arts – Family Opera Initiative is proud to announce that it has been awarded a Commissioning Grant from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program, for the orchestration of Animal Tales, a family-friendly opera composed by Kitty Brazelton, written by George Plimpton, and directed by Grethe Barrett Holby. The project was selected by a special panel from OPERA America to receive one of seven commissioning grants given in support of female composers. Opera Grants for Female Composers is made possible through the generosity of The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.
Animal Tales is a Disney-length opera-musical, about daring to be different, overcoming stereotypes and finding purpose and happiness in life, all told through song, dance and puppetry — a rambunctious masterpiece bursting with fun, optimism and insight into the human journey. It follows the classic structure of many of the most beloved children’s books, songs, and poems: one by one, each animal leaves its bed, home, mother, shepherdess, sets out to find something, and disappears. The guardian worries, but then, one by one, they each return, “wagging their ‘tales’ behind them.” Audiences of all ages will delight in Animal Tales’ optimistic but provocative look at life.
“I suppose in a mild way there is a lesson to be learned for the very young, or the young at heart – the gumption to get out and try one’s wings.” – George Plimpton
“All three of us, George, Grethe, and myself, have young children. We are writing this for them, and for all children everywhere…Plimpton’s libretto is tight, evocative, witty and as archetypically truth-bearing as a fable by Aesop.” – Kitty Brazelton.
As initial collaborators, Grethe Barrett Holby and George Plimpton asked Kitty Brazelton to compose Animal Tales just before Plimpton passed away in 2003. Brazelton began working on the music with Ardea Arts’ Family Opera Initiative at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL. Major workshops of Animal Tales include 2005 (Atlantic Center for the Arts, FL), 2006 (Montclair State University, NJ), and 2008 (Ardea Arts/Family Opera Initiative, NYC). These workshops used the minimum instrumental forces sanctioned by Brazelton: Piano, DJ Turntablist, and Latin Percussion, with a children’s chorus.
Animal Tales was selected for inclusion in the New Works Sampler at OPERA America’s Opera Conference 2009. The last step in the completion of Animal Tales remains for Brazelton to orchestrate the opera for chamber orchestra. The Animal Tales cast includes eight vocal artists covering the map in style and range, backed by a children’s chorus of 10-30 singers either professional, from the community, or a mix of both. The orchestration includes a Piano, DJ Turntablist, Latin Percussion, and a chamber orchestra with a harp and classical guitar.
Winner of a 2015 Opera Grant for Female Composers from OPERA America, Kitty Brazelton rejoices in infusing vernacular American dialects into deep, complex musical structures. Credits include Electric Ordo Virtutm (Lincoln Center Festival – American Opera Projects), Fireworks, Cat, and Animal Tales (Family Opera Initiative), Sleeping out of Doors, 5 Dreams, marriage (Orchestral), chamber compositions for Kathleen Supove; duos: twisted tutu and Double Edge; choreographers: Jody Oberfleder and Gina Gibney; ensembles: Kitchen House Blend, Relache, Manhattan Brass Quintet and California EAR Unit; and choral: New Amsterdam Singers. An american vocalist, composer, flutist, lead singer and band leader, her bands include progressive rock/folk/contemporary classical Musica Orbis, Metal V, power pop Hide the Babies, the art rock/alternative/avant-garde jazz band Dadadah, and punk rock/computer music trio What Is It Like To Be A Bat. Brazelton received a doctorate in music from Columbia University and currently teaches composition at Bennington College.
Grethe Barrett Holby’s background in opera, theatre and storytelling, dance, movement, architecture and visual design combine for compelling results in all of her artistic endeavors. She launched the groundbreaking organization American Opera Projects in 1988, which she led for 13 years. Holby has collaborated with Leonard Bernstein, Placido Domingo, Lou Reed, Yusef Komunyakaa and many others, in venues from The Kennedy Center and La Scala to The Kitchen Theater. She directed for opera companies in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Raleigh and Memphis and most recently, John Cage’s Europera 5 and the American staged premiere of Erik Satie’s Socrate for Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO). She served as resident choreographer of the Houston Grand Opera. She also choreographed productions for Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Michigan Opera Theater. Her own company, Grethe Holby and Dancers, staged works to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, and music by Brian Eno, David Byrne, and many more
George Plimpton was born in New York City in 1927. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard University, and King’s College at Cambridge University. In 1953, Plimpton joined The Paris Review as editor-in-chief. In his defining role as a participatory journalist, the ebullient Plimpton was famous for competing in professional sporting events and then writing from the point of view of an amateur. These events were recalled in this best-known book, Paper Lion. Two anthologies of his articles and shorter works establish Plimpton as a master of the short form and lover of life’s foibles: The Best of Plimpton (1990) and The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair (2004). Animal Tales was his last major work and was written expressly for Ardea Arts/Family Opera Initiative. He was an extraordinarily insightful collaborator and a joyous and inspiring team member. He died shortly after completing the libretto in 2003.
OPERA GRANTS FOR FEMALE COMPOSERS PROGRAM, Launched in December 2013, consists of two granting components: Discovery Grants of up to $15,000 that are awarded directly to female composers to advance new works, and Commissioning Grants of up to $50,000 that are awarded to opera companies in support of commissions of female composers, all made possible through the generosity of The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. An independent adjudication panel selected seven Professional Company Members of OPERA America to receive Commissioning Grants totaling $100,000.
OPERA AMERICA leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera. Founded in 1970, OPERA America’s worldwide membership network includes nearly 200 Company Members, 300 Associate and Business Members, 2,000 Individual Members and more than 15,000 subscribers to the association’s electronic news service. In response to the critical need for suitable audition, rehearsal and recording facilities, OPERA America opened the first-ever NATIONAL OPERA CENTER (operaamerica.org/OperaCenter) in September 2012 in New York City. With a wide range of artistic and administrative services in a purpose-built facility, OPERA America is dedicated to increasing the level of excellence, creativity and effectiveness across the field. OPERA America’s long tradition of supporting and nurturing the creation and development of new works led to the formation of The Opera Fund, a growing endowment that allows OPERA America to make a direct impact on the ongoing creation and presentation of new opera and music-theater works. Since its inception, OPERA America has made grants of almost $13 million to assist companies with the expenses associated with the creation and development of new works.
ARDEA ARTS Founding Artistic and Executive Director – Grethe Barrett Holby
Ardea Arts commissions, develops, and produces provocative new works of music-theater and opera to entertain, challenge and inspire today’s diverse global community, uplift the human spirit, and encourage new ways of seeing our world. It is their goal to engage the community to the greatest extent possible in both the process and performance of the work, producing both within and far outside the walls of the opera house in order to reach the widest public possible. Collaboration is sought with unexpected artists to include American contemporary and popular forms in the operatic musical palette. Ardea Arts works out of its studio in Soho, New York City.
Holby’s belief in the importance of reaching out to new audiences by creating a new American opera for multi-generational audiences led to the formation of Family Opera Initiative (FOI) in 1995, originally a program of American Opera Projects, the company she founded and led from 1988-2001. This ultimately led to the creation of Ardea Arts, generating new 21st century opera works for general audiences. Ardea Arts was incorporated with FOI as a not-for-profit organization in 2006. In addition to Animal Tales (2004-2008), Ardea Arts/FOI repertory includes Flurry Tale (1999), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2001), Fireworks! (2002), The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz (2007), The Man in the Black Suit (2008), Goodnight Moon/Plums (2009), CAT (2010), Maya’s Ark (2013), BABAR The Little Elephant (2014), One Christmas Long Ago (2015), and in development, The Three Astronauts and BOUNCE the Basketball Opera. BOUNCE will have workshop performances this June 25-27. Please visit www.ardeaarts.com for details.