Podcast 71: Matt Gray and Mila Henry from “The” American Opera Project

Matt Gray & Mila Henry from The American Opera Project (@aopopera on Facebook and Instagram) tell our usual suspects all about the Composers & the Voice training program which is in it’s 10th session of 2 year fellows, AOP’s Collaboration with the NYU Opera Lab and the family and schooling that shaped their lives and careers as creative artists.

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  • Das Barbecu, a musical based on The Ring Cycle stories.
    • Book & Lyrics by Jim Luigs
    • Music by Scott Warrender
    • On Site Opera production
    • Hill Country Barbecue Market
    • Minetta Lane Theatre – site of Original Off-Broadway production
    • Carolee Carmello was Gutrune/Freia/Ensemble

Brooke & Chuck

  • Agrippina by George Frideric Handel
    • Metropolitan Opera
    • Sir David McVicar – production
    • Harry Bicket – conductor
    • As if Handel met the sitcom Arrested Development
    • Joyce DiDonato – Agrippina
    • Kate Lindsey – Nerone (played ala Justin Bieber type celebrity)
    • Brenda Rae – Poppea
    • Matthew Rose – Claudio

Mila & Matt:

  • Porgy & Bess
    • Metropolitan Opera
    • J. David Jackson – conductor
    • He is on the AOP Board of Directors
    • The Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, a revised version for Broadway
      • Diane Paulus – director
      • American Repertory Theatre (ART) regional producer


  • Batman (1989 movie)
    • Matt Gray is giving his daughter a fun education in movies, this was their most recent one viewed.
    • Tim Burton – director
    • Michael Keaton – Batman/Bruce Wayne
    • Jack Nicholson – Joker/Jack Napier
    • Kim Basinger – Vicki Vale
    • Prince created all the new music for the score including:
      • Batdance
      • Batman, the TV series (1966-1968)
    • Adam West – Batman/Bruce Wayne


  • West Side Story (Broadway revisal 2020)
    • Ivo Van Hove – director
    • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker – choreographer
    • Alexander Gemignani – music director
    • Jonathan Tunick – orchestrator
  • Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
    • Primarily all female production and creative team
    • Margot Robbie – producer & Harley Quinn


  • The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a Netflix original series
    • Based on the character Sabrina, the teenaged witch
    • Archie Comics

Sort of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about AOP

  • Recently the company was renamed from “American Opera Projects” to “The American Opera Project”
  • Charles Jarden, former General Director
    • 2019 became Director of Strategic Planning
  • Robert E. Lee, former Managing Director left in 2017

Darkling, an opera with dialogue

  • Anna Rabinowitz – librettist and author of original book long poem
  • It is based on the stories she learned after finding a shoebox of photos of family/people she didn’t know
  • People who didn’t survive the Holocaust
  • Stefan Weisman – composer

Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, an opera

  • Nkeiru Okoye – composer/librettist

Composers & The Voice

  • AOP’s 2 year training program currently in it?s 10th session of fellows
  • Steven Osgood – creator and Artistic Director
  • Created to train composers and librettists for how to write for the voice
  • They learn from interactions with and feedback from mentors, master teachers, music director and professional singers as they write text or compose for each different voice type.
  • Sessions in improvisation and acting teach the writers about the underlying skills that singers need to perform.
  • Terry Greiss – Executive Director/Founder of Irondale Theater is their improvisation teacher. It teaches the fellows to be open and collaborate better with other artists.
  • Professional singers who sing for C&V are asked to fill out a detailed data sheet about their own voice and voice type. This is to assist the C&V fellows to understand as they write for each singer.
  • Librettist fellows in C&V are referred to look at the structure of movie screenplays to learn about the structure of story-telling and also economy of language.
  • First Glimpse: Songs from the Great Room – May 29 & 30, 2020 a public presentation of the best songs developed by the current fellows Six Scenes – the 2nd year presentation of full length operatic scenes.

2 operas which began development by their creators while C&V fellows:

Paul’s Case

  • Gregory Spears – composer/co-librettist
  • Kathryn Walat – co-librettist

The Summer King: The Josh Gibson Story

  • This opera documents the life and legacy of the great Negro League baseball player Josh Gibson
  • Dan Sonenberg – composer/co-librettist
  • poet Daniel Nester – co-librettist
  • Mark Campbell – additional lyrics

NYU Opera Lab

  • Created by composer, Randall Eng & director, Sam Helfrich for students in NYU’s
  • Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program.
  • Based on the format of AOP’s Composers & The Voice program, of which Randall Eng was an 2003-2004 fellow.
  • Many of the C&V composers and librettists come from strict training, but many do not
  • Some composers have mainly an instrumental background, and some librettists are new to the process of writing a libretto
  • Most of the NYU Opera Lab composers and librettists come from writing for musical theater

Mila Henry

  • Mila Henry grew up in a highly creative family.
  • Her dad’s side of the family were all performers
  • Mom’s side were supportive audience members
  • One aunt was a repetiteur and vocal coach
  • Another family member was part of the band Pretty Poison
  • “Catch Me (I?m Falling)”, their biggest hit song
  • Mila began piano studies at age 5
  • Began accompanying groups with her 6th grade choir
  • Elizabethtown College – undergraduate
  • Manhattan School of Music – graduate
  • She played in lots of musicals pits with the goal in mind to be playing in a Broadway pit some day.
  • She joined AOP in 2010 as an intern and that became her first introduction to Contemporary Opera.

Matt Gray

  • Matt Gray’s last musical interactions were playing Alto Sax in Jazz Band and singing in High School Show Choir before he began working at AOP
  • Bowling Green State University – studied illustration and acting
  • North Carolina School of the Arts – studied directing
  • He moved to NYC to pursue a directing career and became part of the indie theater scene where he ended up acting in a lot of shows for a brief period
  • One of his job’s was as an assistant/personal shopper for an UES socialite who was also a composer. A real Florence Foster Jenkins type
    • That is where he met Charles Jarden who was helping her produce a new opera
  • Matt joined AOP in 2003 in an administrative position, that was his real introduction to the world of opera

As One, a chamber opera

  • Laura Kaminsky – composer
  • Mark Campbell & Kimberly Reed – co-librettists
  • Developed and produced by AOP and has become one of the most frequently produced contemporary operas
  • Three Reasons Why:
    • It’s economical to produce: 2 singers, a string quartet, runs 75 min
    • It’s topical: confronts some of the issues of the trans community, it?s a coming of age story – so relatable to most audience members
    • It’s a really good opera



  • Parasite, a movie by Bonh Joon-ho
  • Hadestown
  • West Side Story
  • Initimate Apparel, a new chamber opera
    • Ricky Ian Gordon – composer
    • Lynn Nottage – librettist (also playwright of adapted play)


  • Leonore, 1805 version by Beethoven
    • Opera Lafayette
    • Ryan Brown – conductor
    • Will Crutchfield – musicologist, re-imagined the missing section from Florestan’s Act 3 aria.
  • Blue
    • Jeanine Tesori – composer
    • Tazewell Thompson – librettist & director
    • Washington National Opera co-production


  • AOP Mixtape at Joe’s Pub on March 26, 2020

Matt Gray

Matt Gray was named General Director of AOP in 2019, assuming leadership of an
organization with over thirty years of history creating and defining new American opera
theatre. He began at American Opera Projects in 2003 and was promoted from Office
Manager to Program Manager to Producing Director, a position he held for the past ten
years during a robust time for the organization and for contemporary opera in the United

Matt Gray has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Directing from the University of North
Carolina School of the Arts. He spent several years in New York City working in both
indie film and theatre before joining AOP ? having never seen an opera. He quickly
relied on his background in film and theatre to develop AOP projects from the point of
view of an audience member unfamiliar with opera, but well-versed in popular
entertainment and modern storytelling, and continues to lead AOP with the goal of
creating works for the stage that welcome new and adventurous audiences.

Mila Henry

Mila Henry is a music director, pianist and conductor, as well as the Artistic Director of
Brooklyn-based producing company The American Opera Project (AOP). Hailed ?a
stalwart contributor to the contemporary opera scene? (Opera Ithaca), she provides
musical dramaturgy to AOP works in development and serves as Head of Music for their
renowned Composers & the Voice training program for composers and librettists.

Outside of AOP, Mila maintains an active and versatile career, leading works spanning
rock musicals (These Girls Have Demons, Pittsburgh CLO; Something Blue, Page 73) to
folk operas (The World is Round, Ripe Time, Obie-winner), multi-composer
collaborations (Magdalene, PROTOTYPE; Words on the Street, Baruch Performing Arts
Center; SWELL, HERE) to multi-persona monodramas (Love & Trouble, Fargo-
Moorhead Symphony Orchestra), classical traditions (La liberazione di Ruggiero/The
Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace, Opera Ithaca; Hansel and Gretel, Opera on Tap) to
crossover rebellions (Barnum?s Bird, Circle in the Square?s Circle Series; The Moon?s
Silent Modulation, Lincoln Center?s Atrium 360¯). She prefers not to separate styles, but
to blur boundaries, with the outlook that ?music-theatre? is one overarching art form that
welcomes all musical traditions.

A native of the Philadelphia area, Mila holds degrees from the Manhattan School of
Music (Master of Music, Collaborative Piano) and Elizabethtown College (Bachelor of
Arts in Music, Piano).

The American Opera Project

Fort Greene’s The American Opera Project (AOP) has been at the forefront of the
contemporary opera movement for over thirty years through its commissioning,
developing and producing of opera and music theatre projects; its training programs for
emerging composers and librettists; and the organization’s community engagement. AOP
operas show the wide range of what is being created today — from poetry-theatre such as
the Holocaust-themed Darkling by Stefan Weisman and Anna Rabinowitz to the
chamber opera Hagoromo composed by Nathan Davis with a libretto by Brendan
Pelsue that starred dance legends Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, numerous puppets, and
a children’s choir to stories of African-American history including Harriet Tubman:
When I Crossed That Line to Freedom by Nkeiru Okoye and The Summer King by
composer Daniel Sonenberg with a libretto by Sonenberg, Daniel Nester and Mark
Campbell; and numerous groundbreaking works on LGBTQ themes that include Gregory
Spears’ first opera Paul’s Case, Paula Kimper and Wende Persons 1998 opera
Patience & Sarah — the first opera about a lesbian relationship — and the popular As
One by Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell, and Kimberly Reed, the first major opera
about the life of a transgender person, that since its 2014 premiere has become one of the
most widely produced contemporary operas in the U.S. and Canada, with more
productions in the 2017-18 season than even Aida and The Magic Flute.

In 2019, General Director Matt Gray and Artistic Director Mila Henry assumed co-
leadership, changing the organization’s name from American Opera Projects to The
American Opera Project, signifying a shift from being a collection of projects into an
active mission to present American Opera as a forward-thinking and unending artistic
experiment that melds artistic genres and recognizes the operatic story in every life.


“They Will Not Ask” from the opera Darkling, Music by Stefan Weisman, Libretto by Anna Rabinowitz. Flux Quartet, Hai-Ting Chinn

“Paper Route” from the opera As One 2019 Studio Recording (Label: Bright Shiny Things)

“Crossing That Line to Freedom” (Excerpt) from Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That line to Freedom by Nkeiru Okoye
2014 World Premiere Recording – Irondale Center, Brooklyn, NY
Harriet Tubman – Janinah Burnett

Photo: Kent-Meister

Episode 71 was recorded at Metro Podcast Studio NYC

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