The Peabody Opera Étude program


Women’s Studies

Seven New Operas


Joshua Bornfield

Jon Carter

Zhangyi Chen

Daniel Gil-Marca

Emily Koh

Jake Runestad

Jeff Zeiders


Roger Brunyate, program director

JoAnn Kulesza, music director

Jon Carter, Stephanie Miller, Andrew Sauvageau & William Schaller, stage directors


Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at 7:30 p.m.
Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall
Admission free


About Opera Etudes        Peabody Opera home

Eighteen women and three men in a program of operas composed by six men and one woman? The proportions are precisely reversed, but that’s partly the point. There are far more talented sopranos than there are roles in the standard repertoire, so writing operas for them serves a practical purpose. But how do all these guys develop an understanding of how women think and feel? That’s where the Etudes process comes in. For all these scenes began as dramatic improvisations for the singers before a note of music is written. The composers ask questions: What do women talk about when they go shopping together? How does it feel to be victim of workplace sexual harassment, or perhaps one of the culprits? What lies behind those ads on craigslist? What happens when romantic illusions begin to fade? What are the bonds and rivalries between so-called best friends? Or sisters? Through exploring these and other themes in improvisation, the singers sketch answers to such questions. The composers (and sometimes librettists) respond with words and some music. The singers take these preliminary drafts and try them on for size. The composers write more music. And so the process continues, zigzagging back and forth right up to the performances you will hear on May 4.

Picasso: Seated Woman (1927)  
April Showers, with music by Zhangyi Chen and text by Elizabeth Dow, is about a woman on the eve of marriage. The bride-to-be, April, and her two best friends are in her bedroom, chatting casually about their bridal sale fight, the dress, and their lives in general. The mood changes as the bride reflects on her life and her situation. This is contrasted with similar reflections from each of the other bridesmaids, before the scene ends light-heartedly.

Cheated, with music and text by Jeff Zeiders, is a brief insight into the lives of two women who have been best friends as long as they can remember. As Zoe receives the news of her husband’s infidelity, she is faced with a choice she is not prepared to make—one that affects men and women across the world: what to do when expectations are suddenly erased, and a new horizon opens? Struggling through her friend’s advice and her own muddled thoughts, Zoe is caught between the twilight of a previous generation’s standards and the new expectations of a postmodern woman.

  Picasso: Woman with a Crow (1904)
Generations, with music by Emily Koh and text by Katherine Krueger, portrays four generations of the same family. A single woman struggling to survive in a time when divorce was not acceptable. A young teenager willing to risk everything to be with the man she loves. A woman broken by a terrible secret. A modern young woman just starting her life. Generations is the story of a this youngest woman’s self-discovery, and her discovery of the stories of the other women in her family.

Just Tomorrow, with music and text by Daniel Gil-Marca, is about reactions to adversity. One year after their mother’s death, sisters Chloe and Claire find themselves at a crossroads in their lives. The elder, Chloe, a concert pianist, has lost the will to play. Younger sister Claire finds solace by marrying Troy, a local disk jockey. She gets pregnant, but Troy becomes unfaithful and abusive. Claire decides to leave him, but a turn of events complicates her escape. In a last moment together Chloe and Claire reclaim their lives and embrace their future.

Picasso: Woman with Mandolin (1910)  
Missed Connections, with music and text by Jon Carter, is inspired by the often funny, frequently crude, and sometimes sublime personal ad section of the same name on It is here that any hopeless romantic—or shameless one-night-stand seeker—can try to reconnect with the beautiful human being who had struck a spark in the frozen foods aisle of the local supermarket (or, as is the case here, a train from Baltimore to New York). The scene begins with Julia, a married woman who has started to question her sexuality, and Corina, a closeted lesbian, in their separate apartments creating posts on craigslist about their encounter.

On Your Own Time, with music and text by Joshua Bornfield, deals with sexual harassment in the workplace. Debbie is trying to climb the corporate ladder, but the environment that Harold, her supervisor, has established is too hostile for her to shine. Harold wants to make Debbie his protegée in more ways than one. Meanwhile Janice, Harold’s supervisor, is in search of someone—anyone—to provide her with companionship, and has decided that Harold will do. The stage is set for competing power-plays in which at least one of them will be crushed.

  Picasso: Woman with a Book (1932)
The Toll, with music by Jake Runestad and text by Elizabeth Reeves, is a serious variation on a well-known fairytale. What happens when both parties in a relationship build the other up to be something he or she is not? The Toll explores this ironic conflict within a fairytale context, pairing its classic setting with a struggle that occurs in everyday life. Is there such a thing as “happily ever after,” and what compromises must be made in order to attain it?

All the operas will be performed in English with text supertitles. Cheated, Generations, Just Tomorrow, and The Toll are scored for small instrumental ensembles; all others have piano acompaniment. Just Tomorrow also includes short sequences on film.

All illustrations on this page are from the works of Pablo Picasso. From top to bottom, these are: Seated Woman (1927), Woman with a Crow (1904), Woman with Mandolin (1910), Woman with a Book (1932). The title logo at top right is adapted from his Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907).

April Showers
April  Emily Sanchez
First Bridesmaid  Joann Moorer
Second Bridesmaid  Mary-Lacey Rogers
Stage Director  Stephanie Miller
Clara  Rachel Gitner
Zoe  Lisa Perry
Stage Director  Roger Brunyate
Daughter  Alexandra Iranfar
Mother  Danielle Edwards
Grandmother  Katherine Krueger
Great-Grandmother  Annie Laing
Stage Director  Roger Brunyate
Just Tomorrow
Chloe  Jessica Thompson
Claire  Amanda Boundy
Stage Director  Roger Brunyate
Missed Connections
Corina  Juliana Marin
Karen  Erica Hamby
Julia  Sonya Knussen
Eric  Tyler Lee
Stage Director  Jon Carter
On Your Own Time
Debbie  Christine Killian
Janice  Maisi Pedersen
Harold  William McCullough
Stage Director  William Schaller
The Toll
Prince Charmant  Ben Shaver
Cinders  Shanna Babbidge
Tantie Marie  Laura Reaper
Stage Director  Andrew Sauvageau