In 2023, Opera Theatre of St. Louis will present a new adaptation of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha, reimagined for the modern era by composer Damien Sneed and librettist Karen Chilton. The 2024 Festival Season will include the world premiere of This House, an operatic adaptation of Ruby Aiyo Gerber’s play by Gerber and her mother, Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage, with music by composer Ricky Ian Gordon.
“Opera utilizes the powerful combination of music and words to tell a story, and it creates an opportunity for audiences to share a collective experience,” said Nicole Ambos Freber, managing director of advancement of Opera Theatre of St. Louis (OTSL). “Opera can offer us the opportunity to create meaningful dialogue within our community around complicated issues as varied as race, religion, and sexual identity – and that sense of across-the-aisle connection feels more important than ever today.”
Treemonisha will expand the conceptual ideas of Joplin’s 110-year-old opera, adding new material to contextualize this seminal work for a 21st century audience. This House is an operatic adaptation on Gerber’s original play. Set in a majestic Brownstone in Harlem where the fractured Walker family grapples with their own tumultuous history and the implications of a shifting economic landscape, the timely opera is about memory, love, loss, and healing.
“The Regional Arts Commission has been one of OTSL’s most dedicated and generous donors for more than 30 years,” explained Ambos Freber. “The unrestricted operating support RAC provides is simply invaluable, and has given Opera Theatre the ability to allocate funds where they are needed most. With this strong foundation, OTSL has been able to sustain artistic quality while launching innovative programs like the New Works Collective.”
The New Works Collective is a ground-breaking initiative that will disrupt the traditional model of creating opera. The community-led commissioning cycle will be a powerful incubator for new and exciting voices and will encourage new partnerships, strengthen interdisciplinary art-making, and invest in diverse forms of storytelling.
“So often arts programming at legacy institutions is one-directional; this initiative invites the community into a two-way conversation about the stories that we tell onstage and the artists selected to tell those stories. We believe bringing new voices into this process – both as decision-makers and as creators of opera – will create a more vibrant and sustainable art form,” said Ambos Freber.
OTSL will create nine new, short operas between 2023–2025 through the New Works Collective.
“Telling diverse and relevant stories is a hallmark of this company,” said Andrew Jorgensen, General Director. “I’m thrilled that James Robinson, our Artistic Director, is continuing to curate dynamic pieces like Treemonisha and This House, which add so much vibrancy to our repertoire. We are equally excited to explore new models for storytelling that redefine opera with the New Works Collective, which de-centers power and reaches more deeply into our community outside of our standard mainstage season.”