Works in Progress - Summer 2014

Achy Breaky Verdi

The Nashville Opera's new contest

By Sasha Ingber | June 9, 2014
Photoillustration by David Herbick/iStockphoto
Photoillustration by David Herbick/iStockphoto


“Opera is a three-hour version of a three-minute country song,” a board president of the Nashville Opera once said. Now, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the company is calling on the country music capital’s diverse singer-songwriter community to compose operatic songs and perform them in unexpected locations around the city.

It makes sense—certainly as much sense as most opera librettos. From Mozart’s Magic Flute fantasyland to Puccini’s Parisian slum in La Bohème to the benighted British seacoast of Britten’s Peter Grimes, grand opera depicts vast and strange landscapes. Why confine the diversity of opera to opera houses?

Contestants in the Music City Opera Project may submit either a short song of up to five minutes, or a longer piece of up to 15 minutes, with no pressure to write like Wagner or sound like Domingo. Each composition must contain a dramatic arc and be based on characters from an existing opera. The finalists will perform all over Nashville, from university campuses and fabled music halls to dusty honky-tonks and street corners.

To be held in collaboration with the City of Nashville and other local groups, the competition launches next year, and performances are expected to take place in 2016. Says Noah Spiegel, the Nashville Opera’s chief operating officer: “Think of the opera as a living art form rather than a museum piece.”

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