Seattle Opera Receives $500K to Develop New Hagen Opera Amelia

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Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins with composer Daron Hagen
Photo by Bill Mohn, courtesy Seattle Opera

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recently awarded a $500,000 grant to Seattle Opera to fund the newly commissioned American opera Amelia, specifically to subsidize additional productions of the work by two other American opera companies over a four-year period. The grant will cover costs incurred from modifications to set and costume design, score and libretto revisions, audience development materials, and provide Seattle Opera with guaranteed rental income for the subsequent productions. With a separate donation of $300,000, The Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences will serve as production sponsor for Amelia.

“Seattle commissioned Amelia by themselves, so the receipt of this grant essentially creates a consortium for them,” says Daron Aric Hagen, the opera’s composer. “The consortium members are rewarded for their vision and the risk that they’re taking on a new work by lowered production costs.”

The grant also allows Hagen to treat the production as more of a work-in-progress, in which changes may be made in order to meet the needs of the audience. Changes may include those to an already-completed scene in which the title character gives birth—an operatic first—and another scene in what Hagen describes as “more of a soprano freak-out moment requested of a mezzo,” which may have to be altered musically to better fit the singer’s tessitura.

Hagen’s music, combined with a libretto by Gardner McFall and a story by Stephen Wadsworth, revolves around Amelia, an expectant mother in her thirties who struggles to deal with the disappearance and death of her father during the Vietnam War. The world premiere in Seattle, to be conducted by Gerard Schwarz, is scheduled for May 2010.