Podcast 51: Laura Kaminsky

Laura Kaminsky, composer of the most frequently performed 21st Century opera, “As One.” Cited in The Washington Post as “one of the top 35 female composers in classical music.”

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  • A Streetcar Named Desire
    • Opera Company of Middlebury, VT
      • Director: Douglas Anderson
      • Conductor: Michael Skair
      • Blanche: Meredith Lustig
      • Stanley: Greg Gerbrandt
      • Stella: Cree Carrico
    • Previous productions by this opera company:
      • Il Trittico
      • Thais

Brooke, Walker, Chuck

  • The Rose Elf
    • David Hertzberg, Composer/Librettist
    • R.B. Schlather, Director
      • The Mother of Us All
      • Hudson Opera House, Hudson, NY
    • Yamaha donated the Grand Piano


  • Symphonie Fantastique
    • H.E.R.E Arts Center
    • Basil Twist, creator/director
    • Christopher O’Riley, accompanist

Laura Kaminsky, Composer As One

  • AS ONE, many different productions of this opera including
    • Anchorage Opera, AK
    • Upcoming productions in July/August 2018
    • Cincinnati Opera, OH
    • Chatauqua Opera, NY
  • AS ONE Opera creation
    • Mark Campbell, co-librettist
    • Kimberly Reed, co-librettist and filmmaker
  • Opera has two characters:
    • Hannah Before – Baritone
    • Hannah After – Mezzo-Soprano
  • Prodigal Sons, a film by Kimberly Reed
    • The movie documents her trip back to Helena, MT fo her 20th High School Reunion. (Kimberly was identifyin as male back then.)
  • American Opera Projects at BAM Fishman Theater, World Premiere
    • Director: Ken Cazan
    • Conductor: Steven Osgood
    • Hannah Before: Kelly Markgraf
    • Hannah After: Sasha Cooke
    • Fry Street Quartet
    • This same production has been recreated at various opera companies since the premiere.
  • Companies are doing outreach to the LGBTQ community.
    • Seattle Opera did a preview performance for trans youth
    • Syracuse Opera
      • Executive Director: Lisa Smith
    • UrbanArias, Washington, DC
      • Director: Octavia Cardenas
      • Conductor: Robert Wood
      • Hannah Before: Luis Alejandro Orozco
      • Hannah After: Ashley Cutright
  • “Out of Nowhere”, in this scene we hear about the physical attack of Hannah After. Underpinning the scene is a recitation of the names of trans people who have been victims of murder or violent attacks. During the UrbanArias production, Luis as Hannah Before walked through the audience handing out funeral cards. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in the audience.
  • Today It Rains
    • Mark Campbell & Kimberly Reed co-librettists
    • Co-commissioned by Santa Cruz & San Francisco
    • Opera is inspired by a 3 day train ride that Georgia O’Keefe took in 1929 from New York to Santa Fe after her marriage to Alfred Stieglitz had ended.
    • All the action takes place on the train, unless it is a memory or a film section. The orchestra is housed within the train set piece.
    • “The Paintbox Aria”, this is a wordless aria that aims for a visual representation.
    • Jane Gross, an opera patron
    • The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
      • Mason Bates, composer
      • Mark Campbell, librettist
      • Santa Fe Opera, commissioner and producer
    • Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM
    • Rebecca Allan, an abstract painter, art historian/critic and Laura’s wife
    • Today It Rains has a cast of 4 playing: Georgia O’Keefe, Rebecca Stroud,
    • Aubrey Wells and Alfred Stieglitz accompanied by an 11 member chamber orchestra.
    • Nicole Paiement, Opera Parallele co-founder and conductor commissioned this new opera with AOP.
    • It will premiere at C-Space in March 2019 in a production directed by Brian Staufenbehl, co-founder of Opera Parallele, director and multi-media artist

Laura’s family, also her educational and vocational background

  • Laura’s mom became a fashion designer after she was denied entrance to school for architecture. When Laura produced the first modern day staging of Treemonisha, an opera by Scott Joplin her mother designed the costumes.
  • Laura attended Oberlin College as a Psychology major, however, she was writing music and presenting recitals throughout all her years there.
  • Post college, Laura sent some of her scores and recordings to two composers she was interested in studying with: George Crumb and Mario Davidovsky. Mario got her into Graduate School as a composition major at City College, and became her mentor.
  • To pay for school, Laura worked as a pasta chef at Fiorello’s, Lincoln Center. After graduation she has held many high level positions at schools and arts institutions.
  • A short list includes:
    • Associate Director of Humanities, 92nd Street Y
    • Artistic Director of Town Hall, NY
    • Director of Music & Theatre Programs, The New School
    • Music Dept. Chair at Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle
    • Artistic Director of the European Mozart Academy in Poland
    • Visiting faculty at the National Academy of Music in Ghana
    • Artistic Director of Symphony Space, NY
    • Head of the composition department, School of the Arts/ Conservatory of music at Purchase College, SUNY
    • Composer in Residence American Opera Projects, NY
  • Some Light Emerges
    • Mark Campbell & Kimberly Reed co-librettists
    • Houston Grand Opera Commission
    • The opera is both about the creation of the Rothko Chapel in Houston and about some of the people who go to there for spiritual support.
    • Rothko Chapel was commissioned by Dominique du Menil from the architect Philip Johnson and is a non-denominational chapel meant to be a space for humanistic discourse. On it’s walls are 14 black, but color-hued paintings by Mark Rothko.
  • Laura’s Musical Philosophy
    • Work in Chamber-like Operas because she was in charge of  a lot of budgets
    • Likes opera to be an intimate experience
    • Surprised to be in opera
    • Each instrument is part of the story telling
      • As One – Viola is Hannah’s soul
      • Today it rains clarinet has a similar role, voice of finding truth
    • Characters have real relationships, not archetypical relationships
      • As One – Hannah Character has to be a real person—funny annoying scared
    • More possibility for Nuance
    • Being a Woman—thought she couldn’t have a big stage
    • Come from chamber world, collaboration
      • Orchestra world more patriarchal
  • Postville
    • Kimberly Reed, librettist
    • Commissioned by Opera for All Voices, a Consortium led by Santa Fe Opera and San Francisco.
    • This opera is inspired by a real event that occurred in Postville, IA in 2008. A huge immigration raid at the meat packing plant that had helped rebuild the town’s economy. Over 20% of the town’s residents were deported.
    • Laura first heard this story via a documentary presented at Symphony Space.
      • AbUSed: The Postville Raid
      • Luis Argueta, Documentary Filmmaker
    • Laura has built the opera with a modular format so that the chorus can be used or removed. Their material enhances the opera, but the opera can stand alone without that material.
    • Modular Opera – Can be produced in two ways
      • Small Scale without Chorus
      • Or large scale with expanded scenes
  • Almost anything can be an opera, why talk when you can sing?
  • International career
    • Year in Ghana
      • And Trouble Came: An African AIDS Diary, composed while Laura was in Ghana.
      • Rhythms come from Africa
        • Not about counting beats – Searching for one – Cycles
        • Aria in As One, The Perfect Boy, using rhythmic Cycles
    • Eastern Europe
      • Vukovar Trio, a chamber music piece that is about ethnic cleansing/genocide in Europe.

Credits: Peter Szep, Chuck Sachs, Brooke Larimer, Walker Lewis, Matthew Wilson (Audio Engineer), Peter Szep (Editor)


“The Rose Elf” words and music by David Hertzberg, directed by R.B. Schlather, Lights by JAX Messenger, Conducted by Teddy Poll. The Cast: The Elf, Samantha Hankey; The Girl, Alisa Jordheim; The Beloved, Kyle Bielfield; The Brother, Andrew Bogard. The inaugural performance of “The Angel’s Share” at the Green-Wood Cemetery catacombs, presented by Andrew Ousley of Unison Media

“To Know” and “Out of Nowhere” from the opera “As One.”
Excerpt from the 2014 World Premiere production Produced by American Opera Projects, in association with BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music)

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