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Theo Popov and E.M. Lewis Win Second Annual UMD Opera Composition Contest

August 14, 2017 School of Music

Popov and Lewis will receive a commission to produce a new work for the Maryland Opera Studio that asks challenging questions of American politics.

Popov and Lewis will receive a commission to produce a new work for the Maryland Opera Studio that asks challenging questions of American politics.

UMD New Work Reading Winners 2017 COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Composer Theo Popov and librettist E.M. Lewis have been named the winners of the second annual University of Maryland (UMD) Opera Composition Contest. As recipients of this award, they will receive a commissioning grant to produce a new opera, tentatively titled “Town Hall”, for first-year Maryland Opera Studio students.

In a small town, somewhere in America, a community gathers to ask their senator questions about the politics of the day, and the proceedings are live-streamed on social media by a young intern.  But the conversation turns into a heated debate with mortal stakes when a retired librarian takes the event hostage.

Through the town hall’s heightened turn of events, Popov and Lewis’ opera raises challenging questions about American politics: What are the human costs of political decisions? Is there such a thing as the common good? Is what’s best for our country the same as what’s best for its people?

The UMD School of Music’s Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) and The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center's Artist Partner Program established the UMD Opera Composition Contest in 2016 as part of their ongoing dedication to cultivating and performing new work that addresses socially relevant themes. A panel of faculty and artistic curators from both partners reviewed over thirty compelling opera proposals from a diverse pool of creative teams that addressed socially relevant themes.

Craig Kier, Director of the MOS, says, “The selection committee was particularly impressed with the proposal Mr. Popov and Ms. Lewis submitted. Their interest in working with emerging artists of the MOS and creating a work that will resonate with our students and audience throughout campus and beyond was of particular interest. This commissioning project remains an integral part of the MOS season and we’re excited to continue connecting our students and audiences to new work while creating opportunities for composers and librettists to cultivate their creative voices.”

 “This partnership with the School of Music is exciting and important to the Artist Partner Program because we are dedicated to the support and development of new work. Not only do the young, talented UMD students in MOS have the unique opportunity to work with a librettist and composer from the beginning of an opera's creation, our audiences are able to observe and be a part of the process of creating new work,” says Martin Wollesen, Executive Director of The Clarice.

Popov and Lewis will develop their work in collaboration with the MOS artistic team and singers through two residencies this year. First-year MOS students will preview excerpts of the opera at The Clarice’s NextNOW Fest on September 16, 2017. The residencies culminate with a semi-staged performance of the work with piano at the annual MOS New Work Reading on Friday, February 9, 2018.

About Theo Popov

After a childhood spent singing Bulgarian folklore and Christian Orthodox songs, composer Theo Popov began his formal compositional training by studying electronic music with Paul Lansky and musical geometry with Dmitri Tymoczko. Having explored various forms of sacred and folk traditions, he cultivated a special interest in Classical Antiquity, and has for the last decade worked on researching and incorporating it into his own oeuvre. His first opera, NERO ARTIFEX, received a full stage production at Princeton University to enthusiastic acclaim in March 2010. A three-act drama in Classical Latin with libretto by Mariah Min and Veronica Shi, the opera presented one of history’s most notorious emperors as a well- meaning but incapable ruler, a gullible dreamer, and unfortunate artist.

Since then, Theo has focused primarily on writing for the theater stage. In May 2012, his second opera Once Upon the Wind, based on the Russian folktale, “The Soldier Who Captured Death,” with libretto by Kate Light, premiered within the framework of the Composer Librettist Development Program at the American Lyric Theater. The opera received a second performance with The Secret Opera in New York City in 2014, after being selected as a winner in the company’s inaugural Composers Competition. He is returning to the American Lyric Theater to develop the opera The Halloween Tree, based on a Ray Bradbury novella, with librettist Tony Asaro.

About E.M. Lewis

E.M. Lewis is an award-winning playwright, teacher, and librettist.  Her work has been produced around the world, and published by Samuel French.  She received the Steinberg Award for Song of Extinction and the Primus Prize for Heads from the American Theater Critics Association, the Ted Schmitt Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for outstanding writing of a world premiere play, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a playwriting fellowship from the New Jersey State Arts Commission, and the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Drama.  Her play Now Comes the Night was part of the Women's Voices Theater Festival in Washington DC, and was published in the anthology Best Plays from Theater Festivals 2016The Gun Show premiered in Chicago in 2014, and has since been produced in more than a dozen theaters across the country.  It has upcoming productions scheduled in Portland, Oregon; Washington, DC; and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and it will be published in the upcoming anthology The Best American Short Plays 2015-2016.

Lewis' newest play — an epic adventure story set in Antarctica called Magellanica — will have its world premiere at Artists Repertory Theater in 2016.  Her other plays include: Infinite Black Suitcase, The Study (aka Reading to Vegetables), True Story, and You Can See All the Stars (a play for college students commissioned by the Kennedy Center). 

Lewis is currently working on a full-length, family-friendly opera commissioned by American Lyric Theater called Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Fallen Giant, and a big, new political play set in her home state of Oregon called The Great Divide.  She is a proud member of LineStorm Playwrights, ASCAP, and the Dramatists Guild. 

About the Maryland Opera Studio

Both a performing ensemble and graduate program of the University of Maryland School of Music, The Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) prepares the next generation of great singers through a curriculum that encompasses all areas of vocal and theatrical training. Through performances that range from the classic repertoire to provocative new works, MOS builds audiences and advances the art that sustains them. Numerous productions throughout the year give MOS students performance opportunities unmatched by any opera program in the nation and offer the University and our wider community unparalleled cultural experiences.

About The Clarice Artist Partner Program

The Clarice's Artist Partner Program curates a multi-arts performance series with regional, national and international artists and creative innovators. The program is dedicated to creating performance and learning opportunities for our students and our community through artist residencies, workshops, masterclasses, K-12 student matinees and artistic exchange. We believe artists can be catalysts for community change, leadership and empowerment. As part of a major public research university, the Artist Partner Program is committed to the creation and investigation of new work and new ways of participating in the performing arts.


Photo: Theo Popov (left) and E.M. Lewis (right)