Show cover of Words First: Talking Text in Opera

Words First: Talking Text in Opera

Conversations between host, Keturah Stickann, and librettists, lyricists, producers, and performing artists about opera text and storytelling to music.


Alaina Viau and Reaching for an Equitable Operatic Landscape
Keturah speaks with director, creator, and Executive Artistic Director of Loose Tea Music Theatre, Alaina Viau, about her creative work and Loose Tea’s BIPOC Composer Librettist Development Program.Alaina Viau: Tea Music Theatre: Opera Studio:
34:20 12/12/22
Kate Holland, Susan Werbe, and Sifting Through The Great War
Kate Holland and Susan Werbe were co-librettists on Letters That You Will Not Get, composed by Kirsten Volness, and produced by American Opera Projects.  In this episode, I speak to them both about their collaboration, and what it was like finding women’s voices from across the continents and weaving them together.Letters You will Not Get:
35:06 7/4/22
Eric Einhorn and Letting The Space Dictate the Show
Keturah speaks with General and Artistic director of OnSite Opera, Eric Einhorn, about his relationship to text with site specific work.  They also discuss Rhoda and The Fossil Hunt, which he wrote with John Musto for presentation at the Museum of Natural History.On Site Opera:
40:26 6/20/22
Matthew Jocelyn and How to be Undaunted by Hamlet
Keturah speaks with Matthew Jocelyn, the celebrated director, writer, and theater administrator, who wrote the libretto for Brett Dean’s Hamlet, originating in Glyndebourne in 2017, and currently playing at the Metropolitan Opera.
44:06 6/6/22
Deborah Brevoort and her Journey from Politics to Theater
Keturah interviews playwright and librettist, Deborah Brevoort, about her early political career in Alaska, her switch to theater, and her more recent work writing opera libretti.  They go in depth on three operas: STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME, that had its stage premiere at Opera Colorado, THE KNOCK, that was presented as a film for the Glimmerglass Festival last year, and QUAMINO’S MAP, which is about to get its premiere at Chicago Opera Theater.Deborah Brevoort:
38:20 3/21/22
Amy Stebbins and New Work Both Here and There
Keturah interviews director, dramatist, and librettist, Amy Stebbins, about the differences between libretti in the United States and libretti in Europe (particularly new work being written in Germany and Austria).  They discuss the different ways of crafting a piece, why there isn’t a lot of cultural exchange of new works, and what to do about it.  They also talk about some of Amy’s recent libretti, including a work in progress, entitled The People Out There.Amy Stebbins:
59:10 2/28/22
Catherine Filloux and Writing Social Justice
Keturah interviews playwright and librettist, Catherine Filloux about her many works tackling social justice issues, as well as her work with Olga Neuwirth on the new opera, Orlando.Catherine Filloux:
49:12 2/14/22
Jennifer Cresswell and Kathleen Kelly on Writing Real Women
Keturah speaks with singer and librettist, Jennifer Cresswell, and conductor and librettist, Kathleen Kelly about the creation of their new work with Kamala Sankaram, Interstate.  They co-wrote them libretto and performed in the filmed work about a women who writes her former friend after she’s been sent to prison.Interstate: Cresswell: Kelly:
60:00 1/31/22
Max Hoehn and Opera21
Keturah speaks with British Swiss director, translator, and librettist, Max Hoehn, about the development of his new opera laboratory: Opera21, and the state of new opera in Europe.Max Hoehn:
36:06 1/17/22
Marella Martin Koch and the Genesis of Dolores
Keturah speaks with librettist, playwright, and director, Marella Martin Koch, who recently won the inaugural West Edge Opera Aperture commission, alongside her writing partner, composer Nicolas Lell Benavides.  Their work, DOLORES, about worker’s rights fighter, Dolores Huerta, will hopefully have its debut at West Edge in 2023.  They discuss the genesis and creation of this opera, as well as her time at the American Opera Initiative at the Kennedy Center, and her deep dive into Jane Austen’s SENSE & SENSIBILITY with composer, Aferdian.Marella Martin Koch: Lell Benavides: at WNO: Edge Opera’s Aperture program:
52:20 1/3/22
The Decameron Opera Coalition and the “Heroes” Project
Keturah speaks with librettists: Matt Boresi, Bilal Dardai, Briana Hunter, and Steve Wallace about the currently streaming “Heroes” with the Decameron Opera Coalition.  All, saving Matt, are new librettists, and we talk about the inspiration behind their pieces as well as what it was like to write in this medium.Decameron Opera Coalition: and Boresi: Dardai: Hunter: Wallace:
55:02 12/20/21
Taura Stinson and The Meaning Beyond The Rhyme
Keturah speaks with composer and lyricist, Taura Stinson, about her first foray into opera with “On The Edge,” composed by Laura Karpman for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis last season.  They also discuss Taura’s life as a songwriter for the film industry, and how to make opera more open and welcoming to everyone.Taura Stinson: Karpman:
34:50 11/29/21
Rinde Eckert and Changing Up the Wallpaper
Keturah speaks with multi-faceted composer, librettist, and performer, Rinde Eckert.  They discuss the state of opera today, how much it’s changed (or hasn’t), and Rinde’s recent works as a librettist:  Moon Tea with Steven Mackey for OTSL, and The Aging Magician with Paola Prestini with Beth Morrison Projects.Rinde Eckert: Mackey: Prestini: Jenkins Dance Company: Tea: Aging Magician:
57:36 11/15/21
Deborah Burton and the Librettists of Puccini
Keturah interviews music theorist and Puccini expert, Deborah Burton, about the many librettists Puccini worked with throughout his career, with special emphasis on Giacosa and Illica, as well as Fontana, who started it all with Edgar, a disaster that taught Puccini to be very involved with how his libretti were crafted.Librettists mentioned:Ferdinando FontanaGiuseppe GiacosaLuigi IllicaRuggero LeoncavalloMarco PragaDomenico OlivaGiulio RicordiGuelfo CivininiGiuseppe AdamiGiovacchino ForzanoRenato SimoniDeborah Burton -
34:30 11/1/21
Douglas Kearney and Poetry Both Seen and Heard
Keturah interviews Douglas Kearney, a renowned poet and librettist who is the inaugural recipient of the Campbell Libretto Prize through Opera America.  They talk about his work with Yuval Sharon and The Industry in LA, his work as a poet, and his philosophy of writing performative text.Douglas Kearney: LeBaron: Industry LA: 
63:06 10/18/21
Tony Asaro and The Path To Opera
Keturah speaks with Bay Area librettist and composer, Tony Asaro, about his work in musical theater, how he found opera, and the two operas he’s currently working on: Zheng, and The Halloween Tree.Tony Asaro: Popov: Eshima: Halloween Tree:
59:06 10/4/21
Amanda Quaid and Adapting The Extinctionist
Keturah talks to playwright, librettist, and actor, Amanda Quaid about her left turn into writing opera libretti, and her new adaptation for Heartbeat Opera, The Extinctionist with Daniel Schlosberg.Amanda Quaid: Schlosberg: Extinctionist:
26:22 9/20/21
Karen Chilton and the Kaleidoscopic Career
Keturah speaks with librettist, playwright, and actor, Karen Chilton, about her collaboration with Damien Sneed on THE TONGUE AND THE LASH at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for this year’s NEW WORKS, BOLD VOICES LAB.Karen Chilton - Sneed - Theatre of Saint Louis -
36:10 9/7/21
Nicolas Reveles and Writing Trauma
Keturah interviews composer and librettist, Nicolas Reveles, about some of his past work, as well as several upcoming pieces.  They end up talking about the physicality of trauma, a theme that shows up in a number of his pieces.A recent interview with Nic in his role as opera educator:
52:42 8/23/21
Rachel J. Peters asks “Where Are the Women?”
In this first episode of Season 3, Keturah interviews composer and librettist, Rachel J. Peters.  They discuss a number of her works, including the recently premiered STAGGERWING, composed by Lisa DeSpain, and MEN I’M NOT MARRIED TO, which will premiere soon at Cleveland Opera Theater.  Rachel talks about always looking for the women in any given topic, which informs much of her writing.
62:24 8/9/21
Crystal Manich, Ned Canty, Joseph Mechavich, and The Sounds That Move Us
In the final episode of the season, Keturah speaks with director, Crystal Manich, director and General Director of Opera Memphis, Ned Canty, and conductor, Joseph Mechavich, about three texts that move them in opera.  The conversation goes from the specific text to why sounds can be so moving, to how we approach text in our practice, and these three interviews sit beautifully as a trio in thought and structure.Texts discussed are Colautti’s Adriana LeCouvreur, Romani’s The Elixir of Love, and Maeterlinck’s Pelleas et Melisande.
37:34 5/31/21
Aliana de la Guardia and Geovonday Jones discuss Guerilla Opera’s Libretto Writing Workshop
This episode, nearly a year from the first episode highlighting Guerilla Opera’s first Libretto Writing Workshop with Brenda Huggins, is again looking at the virtual workshops that Guerilla Opera is offering this season.The first interview is with Aliana de la Guardia (, who is the artistic director of Guerilla Opera in Boston, and who talks about the company’s mission, as well as the virtual workshops being offered.  We spend a particular amount of time on the Libretto Writing Workshop, which is entering its second year.The second interview is with New York based actor, director, dramaturge, and writer, Geovonday Jones (  We talk about his approach to the workshop, his approach to teaching writing and dramaturgy, and his background as an artist, including our Missouri connection.  Geovonday is from Saint Louis, and got his undergrad at Missouri State in Springfield, which is also where he found a love for opera.  We might also talk about how to make a good caponata.If you’re interested in the workshops being discussed, you can find them here: here’s a recipe for Caponata:
50:50 5/24/21
Talking Diction with Stefano de Peppo and Kathryn LaBouff
In this episode, Keturah speaks with bass-baritone and Italian diction coach, Stefano de Peppo, as well as English diction coach, Kathryn LaBouff, about the importance of good diction.Stefano discusses his journey from Milan to the United States, and how he started helping his colleagues with Italian diction, which has turned into a business.  He also talks about the use of dialects in Italian, and how good diction can help carry emotions across to the audience, even if they don’t speak Italian.Kathryn discusses her technique, which is laid out in her book: “Singing and Communicating in English.”  She also talks about the rise of English dialects and accents in opera, and how she prepares to coach in dialects, as well as how her role changes from rehearsal room to stage when coaching an English opera.
56:14 5/17/21
Jacqueline Goldfinger and Alexandra Deshorties
Keturah begins the podcast with an interview with soprano, Alexandra Deshorties.  They start discussing Donizetti’s Roberto Devereaux, and move into Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, using each libretto to discuss how the text tells the story, and how to work within the confines of the music to find an appropriate interpretation of the text.  Alexandra is frustrated with the idea of sounding “pretty” or “cute,” and wants the text to ring true in all of its beauty and ugliness.  She is convinced that the music can help achieve that.Keturah’s second interview is with playwright and librettist, Jacqueline Goldfinger.  Jacqueline is a friend and collaborator of Melissa Dunphy, who was on this podcast a few weeks ago.  Keturah and Jacqueline discuss this relationship, as well as the numerous other composers with whom she works.  They also talk about the differences between playwriting and libretto writing, and how she collaborates within each project.
58:52 5/3/21
Lynn Nottage, William Burden, Poetry, Music, and Self-Adaptation
Keturah discusses two forms of adaptation in this episode.Her first conversation is with tenor, William Burden, who chats with her about Igor Stravinsky and W.H. Auden’s adaptation of William Hogarth’s paintings, The Rake’s Progress.  They go into detail about one aria in the piece, then speak about how text and music get to the heart of our emotional world.Next up is a conversation with two time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Lynn Nottage, discussing adapting her award-winning play, Intimate Apparel, into an opera of the same name with Ricky Ian Gordon.  They go into what it was like to self-adapt, why the piece was tailor made for a musical adaptation, and what her experience of collaborating with Ricky Ian Gordon was like.Lynn Nottage - Burden - Stravinsky - Auden - Ian Gordon - Rake’s Progress - Apparel - Hogarth - Rake’s Progress -'s_progress
37:10 4/26/21
Anthony Barrese and the Librettists of Rossini
Keturah puts together this episode from her space in San Diego, while out there working on The Barber of Seville for San Diego Opera.  Before the main interview, she shares short conversation with her cast: Patrick Carfizzi, Peixin Chen, Emily Fons, and Carlos Santelli, about their experiences singing the piece.Her main interview is with conductor and artistic director of Opera Southwest, Anthony Barrese.  They discuss the lives and work of numerous librettists who wrote for Rossini, including Cesare Sterbini, Gaetano Rossi, Jacopo Ferretti, and Vincenzina Vigano-Mombelli, one of the few female librettists during that period.San Diego Opera Barber of Seville: Carfizzi: Chen: Fons: Santelli: Barrese: of Rossini:
59:18 4/19/21
Michael Mori, Robert Wesley Mason, and New Versus Contemporary
Keturah starts with a conversation with baritone, Robert Wesley Mason, about learning and performing the role of Jan in Royce Vavrek and Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking The Waves, based on the film by Lars Von Trier.Keturah’s next interview is with Michael Mori, the General and Artistic director of Toronto’s Tapestry Opera, a company that champions contemporary work, and has been operating LibLab, a “speed dating for librettists and composers” since 1995.  They talk about LibLab, creating contemporary opera, what the field looks like now, and what it should look like in the future.
65:20 4/12/21
Greg Pierce, Karen Kamensek, and Adapted Work
Keturah begins this episode speaking with conductor, Karen Kamensek, who talks to her about a moment in Verdi and Boito’s Otello that moves her.  They also talk about Falstaff, and the frustrations of being an artist during Covid.Keturah’s second interview is with librettist and playwright, Greg Pierce, who collaborated with Gregory Spears on Fellow Travelers, Nico Muhly on The Glitch, and is in the process of collaborating with Kevin Puts on The Hours, which will premiere at the Met.  They discuss adaptation, as well as the differences between writing plays and writing libretti.Karen Kamensek: Boito: Pierce: Spears: Muhly: Puts:
49:42 4/5/21
Mina Salehpour and Writing Strong Women
Iranian-German director and librettist, Mina Salehpour, is in the midst of her second opera with composer, Daniel Reza Sabzghabaei.  He’s just received an IDEA Grant from Opera America to help them finish the piece, tentatively titled “The Three Shapes Opera.”  Mina and Keturah speak about this, their first creative work together, and her thoughts on libretto writing as a director who specializes in devised work.Before that, however, Keturah shares interviews with two formidable sopranos, Alexandra Loutsion and Alexandra Lo Bianco, both dissecting the strong female characters in Puccini operas.  For Lo Bianco, they discuss the end of Turandot, and for Loutsion, they talk about the meaning within “Vissi D’Arte” from Tosca.Mina Salehpour, Daniel Reza Sabzghabaei, Yashar Saghai: LoBianco: Loutsion:
50:16 3/29/21
Melissa Dunphy and Composing Politics
In this episode about politics and political figures in opera, Keturah starts with an excerpt from her interview with Director, Daniel Kramer, about Pat Nixon’s aria in John Adams and Alice Goodman’s Nixon in China.Daniel Kramer - in China (Opera) - in China (History) -’s next interview is with conductor, Steven Osgood.  They discuss one moment with Jackie Kennedy in the David T. Little and Royce Vavrek Opera, J.F.K.Steven Osgood - (Opera) -, Keturah interviews Australian composer, Melissa Dunphy, about why she considers herself a “political composer,” and what it was like composing to actual hearing transcripts for her piece, The Gonzales Cantata, about George W. Bush’s disgraced attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.Melissa Dunphy - Gonzales Cantata - Goldfinger - Butler Yeats - Gonzales - Specter - -
61:42 3/22/21

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