Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco “Song of Houston” Initiative Commissions Nell Shaw Cohen to Write Chamber Opera for Premiere in 2021

Posted in awards, Rodeo Opera on August 18th, 2017 by Nell


The Barrel Racer” by Eric Ward is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sometimes, dreams do come true.

These past few years, I’ve focused increasingly on vocal music and opera—and I’ve been fortunate to have access to workshops, residencies, and fellowships that have moved me towards becoming a better artist and building a career as an opera creator. I completed my first dramatic work, monodrama The Coming of Spring, in 2014, and finished my first full chamber opera, Mabel’s Call, this past summer.

A big question, of course, has remained: How could I make that leap from writing “on spec” and workshopping operas-in-development to securing a premiere production by a professional company? Or, for that matter, having an opera commissioned?

Then, one day, HGOco—the community collaboration and education arm of Houston Grand Opera—loved the proposal I wrote with my collaborator to create a “feminist rodeo opera” (more on that below!) for their award-winning Song of Houston initiative, which has been commissioning new works based on stories that define the unique character of Houston since 2007. Their open call for proposals opened a big door for me.

HGOco has awarded me a commission to compose a 60-80 minute one act opera, which will receive a full production in March 2021 with five soloists and an eight-piece chamber ensemble.

Dream. Come. True.

Megan Cohen

As if that weren’t wonderful enough, I get to write this opera with the brilliant Megan Cohen—one of the most-produced playwrights under 35 and an emerging opera librettist, recently commissioned by Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. She also happens to be my sister.

(As far as I know, Megan and I might be the first ever professional composer-librettist team of sisters!)

HGOco commissions works that reflect the Houston experience. Our original story, which will be informed by interviews with contemporary Texans, offers a feminist perspective on rodeo culture: “Small-town barrel racing champion Shayla Taylor and her sponsor, powerful businesswoman Jamie Mendoza, aim for a big win at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. When a bronc rider with a tragic past threatens Shayla’s career-defining race, the women discover each other’s strength in adversity with the help of a spirited rodeo queen.”

Over the next few years, Megan and I will be making frequent trips to Houston for dramaturgical research and workshops as we develop the libretto and score.

I am BEYOND thrilled and honored for the opportunity to create work for HGOco. I can’t wait to bring this opera to life and share it with an audience!

For more information about HGOco’s commissions, which also include an exciting project from composer Nkeiru Okoye and librettist Anita Gonzalez, check out the press release on BroadwayWorld.com.

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Page 73 Summer Yale Residency with playwright Mashuq Mushtaq Deen

Posted in Uncategorized on August 16th, 2017 by Nell

Page 73 Summer Residency group. Photo by Page 73.

I recently had the honor of participating as a guest artist in Page 73‘s week-long Summer Residency on the Yale campus in New Haven, CT, workshopping a wonderful new play by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen with the all-star team of director Jessi Hill and actors Moe Angelos, Isabel Arraiza, Maya Sharpe, and Jade Wu. We lived and worked alongside artists developing three other projects, sharing readings of new work and exchanging ideas over daily group dinners.

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen invited me to collaborate on his play THE BETTERMENT SOCIETY after we’d worked together in New Dramatists’ Composer-Librettist Studio last winter. We’ve written a song for voice and guitar that is threaded throughout the structure of the play and creates a musical-dramatic arc for one the three women at the center of Deen’s narrative. The song was previously workshopped as part of a reading with director Jessi Hill at New Dramatists, and will receive further development on another reading in New York City this fall. I look forward to seeing where this project leads!

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