The Coronavirus emergency left the landscape for the arts gloomy, but Guerilla Opera’s thirteenth season had successes which propelled the company into a new era of female leadership and artistry. Guerilla Opera’s composers are equally winning. With seven works in development, many smaller projects, and new digital programming, the company’s fans and supporters have a lot to look forward to in future seasons.
Composer Awards and Distinctions
On July 26, 2020 OPERA America announced that composer Emily Koh and Guerilla Opera received an award from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers: Commissioning Grants program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. This award is to directly commission the creation and support the premiere of her first evening length opera, HER:alive|un|dead: a media opera.
The OPERA America adjudication panel, professionals on the panel included Andrea Clearfield, composer; Osvaldo Golijov, composer; Lillian Groag, playwright, theater director and actress; Timothy Long, pianist and conductor; Nick Stuccio, president & producing director, Fringe Arts; and Jorell Williams, baritone, reviewed 24 applications submitted during the COVID-19 quarantine period in April. Koh was one of seven recipients to receive a grant award.
OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program provides financial assistance to identify, support, and help develop the work of female composers writing for the operatic medium, raising their visibility and promoting awareness of their compositions to the field. Funding for this program is provided by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Program for Commissioning Women in the Performing Arts.
HER:alive|un|dead is a concert-length media opera about three generations of Asian women in a single family. Through birth and death cycles in the family, and encounters in a space called the in-between, these women expound on gender biases against women, and discriminatory practices upon people of Asian descent. The opera is slated to fully premiere in Guerilla’s 2023-2024 season.
Emily Koh is a Singaporean composer based in Atlanta, whose music is characterized by inventive explorations of the smallest details of sound. In addition to writing acoustic and electronic concert music, she enjoys collaborating with other creatives in projects where sound plays an important role in the creative process. Emily is currently Assistant Professor of Composition at the University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music and received a Ph.D. in Music Composition and Theory from Brandeis University.
Composer Tina Tallon was awarded a 2020-2021 fellowship at the prestigious Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. This fellowship supports her first opera,Shrill commissioned and to be premiered by Guerilla Opera as well as a book on the technocultural history of voice technology.
The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study offers one-year fellowships and creates an interdisciplinary, international community of 50 fellows across the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences.Each year, the Institute hosts leading scholars, scientists, artists, and practitioners from around the world in its renowned fellowship program.
Shrill is an electroacoustic chamber opera that will examine the ways that gender bias in the development and regulation of voice technology has shaped history. Told from the perspective of four female-identified vocal laborers (a switchboard operator, a radio announcer, a modern presidential candidate, and a virtual digital assistant), it will grapple with questions of embodiment, virtuality, agency, and identity construction. The set includes sculptural electronic instruments and interactive elements that engage performers and audience alike.Shrill is slated to premiere in Guerilla’s 2022-2023 season.
The past few years Tina has been researching the topic of technology bias extensively, and received notable attention after her first published article in the New Yorker. Also listen to NPR’s On The Media interview between Brooke Gladstone and Tina Tallon about her research on bias in voice technology.
Tina Tallon is a Boston-based composer, computer musician, improviser, and arts documentarian completing her doctoral studies in composition at the University of California, San Diego. Her music has been performed around the world by ensembles and musicians such as the LA Philharmonic, Ensemble Intercontemporain, wild Up, Talea, and Transient Canvas, and her work has received awards and grants from ASCAP, NewMusicUSA, the Barlow Endowment, and PARMA music, among others. Recent commissioners include the LA Philharmonic, Guerilla Opera, Steven Schick and the La Jolla Symphony, and pianist Michael Kirkendoll. Ms. Tallon holds B.S. degrees in Biological Engineering and Music from MIT and an M.F.A in Composition and Music Theory from Brandeis University. Her primary composition teachers include Peter Child, David Rakowski, and Lei Liang, and she has studied computer music with Miller Puckette and Tom Erbe. She is currently Assistant Professor of Composition at the Boston Conservatory and Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Clark University.
Composer Elena Ruehr received a grant award from The Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) to support the premiere of TheThrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, a chamber opera based on the steampunk graphic novel written and drawn by Sydney Padua, which will premiere in Guerilla’s 2021-2022 season.
CAST was established to create new opportunities for art, science and technology to thrive as interrelated, mutually informing modes of exploration, knowledge, and discovery at MIT. The Center also supports projects that may be difficult to fund through traditional sources or are exploratory in nature but may lead to creative works, significant research or interesting collaborations in the future.
In TheThrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage are two great minds in mathematics and engineering. They work together for years on the first design for a computer and create the Analytical Engine, an engine that can analyze any subject in the universe. In a twist of plot, the Mulitverse is created and Ada and Charles appear in new forms, as crime fighters, although it is music that Charles wants to battle, and poetry that Ada hopes to destroy.
An award winning faculty member at MIT, composer Elena Ruehr has also been a Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute and composer-in-residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which performed and recorded her major orchestral works (O’Keeffe Images, BMOP Sound) as well as the opera Toussaint Before the Spirits (Arsis Records). Three of her six string quartets were commissioned by the Cypress String Quartet, who have recorded Six String Quartets by Elena Ruehr (Avie), with the Borromeo Quartet and Stephen Salters. Her quartets have also been performed by numerous ensembles, including the Arneis, Biava, Borromeo, Lark, Quartet Nouveau, Roco and Shanghai string quartets. Her other recordings include Averno (Avie with the Trinity Choir, Julian Wachner, conducting), Jane Wang considers the Dragonfly (Albany), Lift (Avie), Shimmer (Metamorphosen Chamber Ensemble on Albany) and Shadow Light (The New Orchestra of Washington with Marcus Thompson on Acis).
Over the course of last and this coming year composer Beth Wiemann was awarded various fellowships and residencies to complete the score and libretto for Rose Standish Nichols: Design for a Life for Guerilla Opera including: theHambidge Center in Rabun Gap, GA, Willapa Bay Artists in Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, VA, and the Visby International Center for Composers in Götland, Sweden. This opera is slated to premiere in Guerilla’s 2021-2022 season.
This monodrama for soprano, saxophone, percussion and electronics has a libretto fashioned from published sources courtesy of the Nichols House Museum in Boston, MA. It paints the portrait this true-life striving woman who had success as a landscape architect, and a suffragette who was sometimes seen as a political radical. The opera explores the ways in which her position on Beacon Hill both helped and hurt her, given her intense commitment to art and politics. She had both radical and conservative sides to her. This opera will be performed in her historical home, The Nichols House Museum, which she willed to become a museum.
Beth Wiemann was raised in Burlington, VT and studied composition and clarinet at Oberlin College and Princeton University. Her works have been performed by the New York New Music Ensemble, Continuum, Ensemble 21, Earplay, the Motion Ensemble, Opera Vista, saxophonist John Sampen, singers Paul Hillier, Susan Narucki, D’Anna Fortunato, and others. Her compositions have won awards from Copland House, the Orvis Foundation, Colorado New Music Festival, American Women Composers, and Marimolin as well as various arts councils, and have been featured on the Capstone, Americus, innova and Albany record labels. She teaches composition and clarinet at the University of Maine.
Guerilla Leadership Awards and Distinctions
The Guerilla women running the show are also all in the spotlight with industry acknowledgements and opportunities to learn and expand their contributions to the field. In this artist-led ensemble, the creators and performers wear multiple hats at all times, and these women continue to prove their ability to excel in many areas. Recent awards will enable them to expend their skills in creation, community, and administration both in Boston and nationwide.
Aliana de la Guardia was recently selected as a protégée for OPERA America’s Women’s Opera Network Mentorship Program for Women in Opera. She has been paired with Lee Anne Myslewski, Vice President of Opera and Classical Programming, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Vienna, VA. The Mentorship Program was created in 2018 to help advance the goals of the OPERA America Women’s Opera Network, an action-oriented affinity group dedicated to addressing and advancing gender parity in the opera field.
De la Guardia is also the recipient of a $2,000 Public Art Learning Fund grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts. She is pursuing a custom-tailored mentorship program with Double Edge Theatre shadowing producing director Adam Bright and co-artistic director Carlos Uriona focused on the development and production of public art, events and community engagement. The Public Art Learning Fund provides grants to support professional development opportunities for New England artists to strengthen their public art practices.
Aliana de la Guardia has garnered acclaim for her “dazzling flights of virtuosity” (Gramophone) in “vocally fearless” performances that are “fizzing with theatrical commitment” (The Boston Globe). The Cuban-American artist is a co-founder of Guerilla Opera, with which she has produced many world premiere operas with roles tailor-made for her ferocious stage presence. As a soprano vocalist specializing in new music and garnering skills as a physical theater artist, she is especially fit for premiering experimental new operas as well as genre-bending performance art, devised works and intimate performances. She is also the owner and founder of Dirty Paloma Voice Studio, a private voice studio with over 30 students ranging from middle school to professional; the treasurer of Granite State National Association of Teachers of Singing; and on the Haverhill Multicultural Festival 2020 planning committee. De la Guardia has an BM in vocal performance, with an emphasis in opera as well as MM, vocal performance from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee.
This season Julia Noulin-Mérat is one of fifteen selected from the UnitedStates, Canada, Europe and Latin Americato attendOpera America’s Leadership Intensive, which identifies and offers intensive training to the most promising up and coming leaders in the field of opera.The 2020 Leadership Intensive participants selected by OPERA America include representatives from Long Beach Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, On Site Opera, San Diego Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Birmingham, and Michigan Opera Theatre.
In addition to her work as Co-Artistic Director for Guerilla Opera, Julia Noulin-Mérat is Associate Producer for Boston Lyric Opera. She has designed over 400opera, theater, television productions, as well as immersive and interactive shows world-wide and has produced 50 shows, including 20 new operas. Other projects include a TEDx talk on site-specific opera productions in the modern age, a critically acclaimed immersive Pagliacci experience on fairgrounds with a circus tent with Boston Lyric Opera and Playground (Opera Omaha) a touring operatic sound sculpture in collaboration with Pulitzer composer Ellen Reid. She has served on the panel for Opera America adjudicating the Tobin Director-Designer showcase and has received OA’s Women Opera Network mentorship distinction with an emphasis on being a general director. With over 18 yearsexperience in the performing arts industry, she is an adjunct professor at Pace University and a graduate of Boston University with a MSc in Arts Administration, an MFA in Set Design, a Diversity Inclusion certificate from ESSEC Business School, a social media marketing specialization from Northwestern University, a Fundraising Development Specialization from UC Davis, a Finance certification from Harvard Business School.
The newest Guerilla, Brenda Huggins, now Guerilla Opera’s Director of Engagement Programs, is a recipient of a $2,000 Opportunity Fund artist grant from the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and the City of Boston. In partnership with Families Creating Together, a non-profit organization serving multi-generational and multi-lingual communities, Brenda will lead interactive shadow theater, drama, and storytelling workshops in Roxbury this Spring.
Brenda Hugginsis a stage director, dramaturg and designer working in opera and puppetry. She made her NYC directing debut in 2019 at the Abrons Center for the Arts, and has created many intimate productions of classical and contemporary opera with Opera Del West in the Boston area for the last seven years. She is the Resident Dramaturg at Guerilla Opera for the 2020 Emergence Composer Fellowship and additional dramaturgy projects include productions withOperaRoxat the National Opera Center in NYC, the New England Russian Theater Festival at the Boston Playwright’s Theatre, Commonwealth Opera, and Boston Conservatory. She was commissioned in 2015 by Juventas New Music Ensemble to create a new puppetry work at the A.R.T.’s Club Oberon and produced a new original work in 2013 at the National Puppetry Festival: Fringe in Swarthmore, PA. Brenda is a passionate teaching artist with an M.A. in Theater Education from Emerson College, currently teaches at the Urban College of Boston, and served as the Learning and Leadership Manager at OPERA America from 2017-2019.