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Oxford and Beyond Excellence and Expertise

Miami Opera Garners National Recognition with Premieres of New Works and Cutting-Edge Film Technology

a behind the scenes view of a camera crew filming a scene with a green screen
Oxford and Beyond Excellence and Expertise

Miami Opera Garners National Recognition with Premieres of New Works and Cutting-Edge Film Technology

Over a decade has passed since Opera News hailed Miami Opera Theater as the region’s "hidden gem." Since then, the program has garnered significant acclaim, earning seven prestigious awards from the National Opera Association for its outstanding productions. This honor places the program in the company of many of the nation’s leading schools of music. This is the third consecutive year that the program has placed in the competition including a first-place award for Gregory Spear’s Paul’s Case in 2023, another f first place award for Philip Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox in 2022, and second place finish for Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart in 2021.

a woman sings while another woman plays a guitar in bed on stage

Amid the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Miami Opera Theater adapted embracing the medium of film for their production of Philip Glass' Hydrogen Jukebox. Benjamin Smolder, the Program Director, reflected on this project, stating, “After a year of silence, we finally had the opportunity to make music together; it was a sacred time.” The film marked new collaborations with several local arts organizations including Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, Cincinnati Opera, The American Sign Museum, and Movement Emporium. Through the lens of Allen Ginsberg's poetry, the film weaves a narrative addressing themes of social protest, violence, environmental degradation, perpetual warfare, and sexual identity.

The project was met with critical acclaim, earning four nominations from the prestigious American Prize. Among the accolades received were the 2023 American Prize for Virtual Production and a second-place award for Best Opera Direction, shared by Ben Smolder and Tiffany Lusht.

In 2023, Miami Opera produced a Festival of Chamber Opera, presenting works by Mozart, Purcell, and the college premiere of Paul’s Case by Gregory Spears, adapted from the novel by Willa Cather. Centering on the sensitive issue of teen suicide, Paul’s Case served as a catalyst for community engagement and new partnerships with Miami Health Services to create resources for identifying troubled youth.

men and women sitting on a magic carpet flying through the air
women sitting on a limestone wall speaking with men standing next to them in front of a graffitied wooden fence
a man stands in front of a bed while three women dressed as maids stand behind him

In the same year, Miami Opera's program caught the attention of acclaimed composer John Massaro, paving the way for the opportunity to bring two new works to film. “The Seven Sisters," a composition by Massaro with a libretto penned by John Kramer. Massaro, is artistic director of Phoenix Opera and has enjoyed an association with the Metropolitan Opera, where he served as assistant to luminaries such as Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein. John Kramer is a novelist and Vice President for Strategic Relations for the Institute of Justice. The Seven Sisters explores the mythological tale of the Pleiades constellation. The work will be paired with another new work entitled The Book of Hours. The work draws its score from the lesser-known works of French composers with a design style influenced by the Belgian graphic artist Frans Masereel. The story, crafted by Miami Opera Theater's Director Ben Smolder, unfolds against the backdrop of the German occupation of Paris, weaving together a poignant love story between a member of the resistance and a Haitian nightclub singer.

a woman in a red dress lays into the crescent of the moon

In the creation of these new works, Miami Opera's program engaged with state-of-the-art technology prevalent in the film industry, forging partnerships with students and faculty from theater, dance, and emerging technologies departments. A significant contributor to these endeavors was former Miami student Nate Wilkens, who served as the virtual designer for the productions. With degrees in voice performance and emerging technologies from Miami, Wilkens brings valuable expertise honed during his three-year tenure in the Los Angeles film industry. "We have enjoyed collaborating with one of our own and to explore the use of Unreal Engine for design. Additionally, we're utilizing the full capabilities of the XR Theater in the new Richard McVey Data Science Building. Engaging with this technology offers our students a remarkable educational opportunity while reducing our environmental footprint,” states Smolder.

three people staring into a fire from a distance
a woman laying in a kneeling man's lap
a man sitting on a rock contemplating while staring into a pond

Miami's Voice Program has a strong reputation for nurturing young talent destined for the professional stage. Recent successes include Megan Moore, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut, and Sonya Headlam, who debuted with the New York Philharmonic. Additionally, there are several recent graduates thriving as opera singers in Germany and France, taking leadership positions in professional opera companies, and performing on Broadway. “It is rare for a program of our size to produce so many successful top-tier singers, states Smolder.

Emphasizing Miami's commitment to becoming a premier institution for training young singers and music educators, Smolder expressed his hope for continued growth and community impact. He underscored the importance of support from the Miami community, likening the dedication required by young musicians to that of athletic teams, and encouraged involvement in the vibrant arts scene at the College of Creative Arts.