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Four Female Composers You Should Know About

Kamala Sankaram as Mukhtar Mai in the LA Opera Off Grand 2017 production of "Thumbprint" I Larry Ho
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Vireo, the groundbreaking made-for-TV opera, is now available for streaming. Watch the 12 full episodes and dive into the world of Vireo through librettos, essays and production notes. Find more bonus content on KCET.org and LinkTV.org.

Earlier this season, for the first time since 1903, the Metropolitan Opera staged an opera composed by a woman – Kaija Saariaho’s “L’Amour de Loin.” Across the country, other operas by female composers are also finally getting their day in the sun. Below, we’ve curated a list of opera wonder women that you should know about.

Missy Mazzoli
Missy Mazzoli’s inventive and otherworldly music has been performed all over the world. Her upcoming opera “Proving Up,” commissioned by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and New York’s Miller Theatre, will premiere in January 2018 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Based on a short story by Karen Russell, “Proving Up” explores the nature of the American Dream through the eyes of a 19th-century Nebraskan family. Her other operas include “Breaking the Waves,” based on the 1996 Lars Von Trier film, which premiered at Opera Philadelphia to rave reviews in September 2016, and “Song from the Uproar,” staged by LA Opera in 2015.

Listen: “Here Where Footprints Erase the Graves” from “Song from the Uproar”

Abigail Fischer as Isabelle Eberhardt in Missy Mazzoli's "Song from the Uproar," presented by LA Opera Off Grand and Beth Morrison Projects at REDCAT. I Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera
Abigail Fischer as Isabelle Eberhardt in Missy Mazzoli's "Song from the Uproar," presented by LA Opera Off Grand and Beth Morrison Projects at REDCAT. I Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera

Lisa Bielawa
Lisa Bielawa has changed how the opera game is played. Her latest opera, “Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser,” is a 12-episode journey exploring the treatment of hysteria across centuries. Rather than staging her opera in the traditional sense, Bielawa composed the piece for online and broadcast – for the modern viewer trained on binge-watching. It’s a breakthrough piece that gives audiences yet another way to experience this great art form.

“Vireo” is only the latest in Bielawa’s decades-long career that’s seen touring as a soloist with the Philip Glass Ensemble, co-founding the MATA Festival celebrating the work of young composers, and composing multiple orchestra works and operas (including “The Trojan Women”).

Watch: All 12 episodes on KCET

Watch: Lisa Bielawa discuss the making of “Vireo

Vireo composer Lisa Bielawa | Daniel Clark
Vireo composer Lisa Bielawa | Daniel Clark

Kamala Sankaram
​Kalama Sankaram is the celebrated composer of “Thumbprint” and “Miranda” (in addition to many chamber music pieces). “Thumbprint,” which LA Opera is now presenting at REDCAT, tracks the transformation of Mukhtar Mai into a champion for women’s rights in Pakistan. “Miranda” is a murder-mystery steampunk opera. Throughout her career as a composer, Sankaram has blended various musical styles together from traditional Hindustani music to tango to hip-hop. In addition to composing, Sankaram is also a celebrated coloratura soprano (who stars in her own operas) and frontwoman of the band Bombay Rickey.

Listen to: “Mukhtar’s Aria” from “Thumbprint” (get tickets to the show here)

Listen to:Queen of the Rhumba” by Bombay Rickey

Steve Gokool (Judge) and Kamala Sankaram (Mukhtar Mai) in the LA Opera Off Grand 2017 production of "Thumbprint" I Larry Ho
Steve Gokool (Judge) and Kamala Sankaram (Mukhtar Mai) in the LA Opera Off Grand 2017 production of "Thumbprint" I Larry Ho

Jennifer Higdon
Jennifer Higdon is one of the most performed American composers. Her Percussion Concerto won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, while her Violin Concerto won her the Pulitzer Prize in Music that same year. Her first opera, “Cold Mountain,” based on the book by Charles Frazier, premiered at Santa Fe Opera and has made a great mark on the history of American opera.

Listen: “What Was His Name?” from “Cold Mountain”

To learn more about female opera composers, check out this piece on women in opera. 

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