“Mabel’s Call” Selected for Fort Worth Opera’s 2018 Frontiers Showcase

"Mabel's Call" Selected by Fort Worth Opera for 2018 Frontiers Showcase

I’m extremely honored that my chamber opera Mabel’s Call has been selected by Fort Worth Opera for their renowned 2018 Frontiers showcase! A 20-minute excerpt will be presented with piano accompaniment alongside other five other new operas-in-development during the Fort Worth Opera Festival at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. Check out their press release for more information about each of the works selected for this year’s festival.

Mabel’s Call will be featured on Thursday, May 3, 2018. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased online.

Hailed as “one of the most significant music events of the year” by D Magazine, Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers showcase has yielded numerous regional and world premieres since its inception. This program offers audiences a first look at the developmental processes for operas and gives emerging composers and librettists a platform to showcase their talents.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have Mabel’s Call continue its development as part of this amazing program. Learn more about this opera at mabelscall.com.

Rodeo opera research trip in Houston

Megan Cohen and I interviewed four-time World Champion barrel racer, Sherry Cervi, backstage at RODEOHOUSTON.

I had the great pleasure of spending last week doing immersive field research in Houston, Texas with my librettist collaborator (and sister) Megan Cohen. We’re in the early stages of developing a “feminist rodeo opera” commissioned by Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco for their wonderful Song of Houston chamber opera initiative.

Set at the present-day Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, this opera’s fictional story focuses on women in rodeo culture. Our characters include a professional barrel racer, a CEO of a Western wear company, a rodeo queen, and the ghost of a 19th century cowboy.

Thanks to Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, our research activities included interviews with seven amazing rodeo athletes (including World Champion barrel racers!); site visits to George Ranch, The Heritage Society, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Women’s Leadership Conference; and, of course, plenty of exploring and observing the rodeo itself. Check out my Twitter and Instagram feed (#RodeoOpera) for photos and summaries of our experiences throughout the week!

The premiere production of our opera is scheduled for Spring 2021. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco “Song of Houston” Initiative Commissions Nell Shaw Cohen to Write Chamber Opera for Premiere in 2021


The Barrel Racer” by Eric Ward is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sometimes, dreams do come true.

These past few years, I’ve focused increasingly on vocal music and opera—and I’ve been fortunate to have access to workshops, residencies, and fellowships that have moved me towards becoming a better artist and building a career as an opera creator. I completed my first dramatic work, monodrama The Coming of Spring, in 2014, and finished my first full chamber opera, Mabel’s Call, this past summer.

A big question, of course, has remained: How could I make that leap from writing “on spec” and workshopping operas-in-development to securing a premiere production by a professional company? Or, for that matter, having an opera commissioned?

Then, one day, HGOco—the community collaboration and education arm of Houston Grand Opera—loved the proposal I wrote with my collaborator to create a “feminist rodeo opera” (more on that below!) for their award-winning Song of Houston initiative, which has been commissioning new works based on stories that define the unique character of Houston since 2007. Their open call for proposals opened a big door for me.

HGOco has awarded me a commission to compose a 60-80 minute one act opera, which will receive a full production in March 2021 with five soloists and an eight-piece chamber ensemble.

Dream. Come. True.

Megan Cohen

As if that weren’t wonderful enough, I get to write this opera with the brilliant Megan Cohen—one of the most-produced playwrights under 35 and an emerging opera librettist, recently commissioned by Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. She also happens to be my sister.

(As far as I know, Megan and I might be the first ever professional composer-librettist team of sisters!)

HGOco commissions works that reflect the Houston experience. Our original story, which will be informed by interviews with contemporary Texans, offers a feminist perspective on rodeo culture: “Small-town barrel racing champion Shayla Taylor and her sponsor, powerful businesswoman Jamie Mendoza, aim for a big win at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. When a bronc rider with a tragic past threatens Shayla’s career-defining race, the women discover each other’s strength in adversity with the help of a spirited rodeo queen.”

Over the next few years, Megan and I will be making frequent trips to Houston for dramaturgical research and workshops as we develop the libretto and score.

I am BEYOND thrilled and honored for the opportunity to create work for HGOco. I can’t wait to bring this opera to life and share it with an audience!

For more information about HGOco’s commissions, which also include an exciting project from composer Nkeiru Okoye and librettist Anita Gonzalez, check out the press release on BroadwayWorld.com.

“Mabel’s Call” at University of New Mexico in 2018

The University of New Mexico Logo

I’m very honored to announce that the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque will be presenting a full-length workshop of my opera Mabel’s Call—with the full score for six soloists, chorus, and seven-piece chamber ensemble—as UNM Opera Theatre’s Fall 2018 semester production! I can’t wait to work with stage director Leslie Umphrey, music director Kristin Ditlow, and their talented students, as UNM Opera Theatre Composer-in-Residence. Performance dates TBA.

“Mabel’s Call” opera event on June 18 in Taos, NM

Ad for Mabel's Call: Celebrating a Remarkable Taos Woman through Music
On June 18, 2016, the Mayor of Taos, New Mexico declared the first annual “Mabel Dodge Luhan Day,” to occur on the third weekend of June. He noted that “Mabel Dodge Luhan was one of, if not the most prominent and globally known resident of our community from 1918 to 1962, serving as our unofficial ambassador, mentor and host to the arts, to the outside world and to many of the most talented, influential, and well known figures of her lifetime.”

In celebration of the second annual Mabel Dodge Luhan Day weekend, the Harwood Museum of Art and The Mabel Dodge Luhan House are presenting a behind-the-scenes look at Mabel’s Call: my new chamber opera that dramatizes Luhan’s self-reinvention in Taos.

I look forward to joining leading Luhan scholar Lois Rudnick in this public conversation and opera video screening, titled Mabel’s Call: Celebrating a Remarkable Taos Woman through Music. We will screen and discuss video clips excerpted from a concert workshop performance of the opera-in-progress, which was filmed live at the Harwood Museum in 2016. I’ll be shedding light on the process of interpreting Luhan’s life and historical context through music. Audience Q&A will follow.

The event will take place Sunday, June 18, 2017, 2:00pm in the Harwood Museum of Art’s Arthur Bell Auditorium in scenic Taos. Admission is free and open to the public. Seating is limited. For venue information, visit the Harwood Museum of Art.

ABOUT THE OPERA

Inspired by the life of Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mabel’s Call is a lyrical opera in one act scored for six soloists, chorus, and chamber ensemble, with music and libretto by Nell Shaw Cohen. A universal tale told on an intimate scale, this work probes themes of identity, love, home, spirituality, and the search for a meaningful life. The opera’s story will resonate with audiences everywhere—even while it is deeply rooted in the culture, history, and physical landscape of Taos, New Mexico in the 1910s and ‘20s. The Harwood Museum of Art and American Opera Projects have presented workshops of Mabel’s Call in Taos and New York City, respectively. To hear clips from the opera and learn more about the project, visit mabelscall.com.

Residency at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, NM

View of Taos Mountain and the Rio Grande Gorge. Photo by Nell Shaw Cohen, 2016.
Taos Mountain and the Rio Grande Gorge. Nell Shaw Cohen, 2016.

Last year I spent ten weeks as Artist-in-Residence at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, which supports artists and the creative process by providing housing and studio space in the heart of Taos, New Mexico. I’m delighted that the foundation has invited me back for a second residency.

I look forward to returning and continuing work on Mabel’s Callmy opera inspired by Mabel Dodge Luhan’s journey of self-reinvention in Taos during the 1910’s and ’20s. The Wurlitzer Foundation is located minutes away from Luhan’s historic home and all of the locales that were important to her life in Taos—and, consequently, my opera! It’s the perfect place to immerse myself in completing this opera-in-progress, my largest work to date, which I began researching about a year and a half ago.

Nell is named finalist for Houston Grand Opera commission

It is a huge honor to have been selected by the Houston Grand Opera as one of eleven finalists for the 2017 Song of Houston Composer Call!

The nationally recognized Song of Houston initiative commissions new chamber operas and song projects that resonate with contemporary life in Houston and develops community projects that foster collaborations with many Houston-area organizations. Previously commissioned composers include Christopher Theofanidis, Gregory Spears, David Hanlon, and Laura Kaminsky.

Commissioned works will be announced during the summer.

Reflection on New Dramatists Composer-Librettist Studio

New Dramatists in NYC

This past winter, I had the pleasure of participating in the Composer-Librettist Studio: a two-week laboratory facilitated by Nautilus Music-Theater. This program has been filling the halls of playwright organization New Dramatists with new musical theater and opera for 33 years. (My very first composition teacher, Kim D. Sherman, was a participant in the inaugural Composer-Librettist Studio!)

On February 3, 2017, I was delighted to share the fruits of a gratifying (and exhausting) couple of weeks spent immersed in working with playwrights, performers, and composers in this deep-dive, rapid-production, hackathon-style workshop for music-theater collaborations. Collectively, we generated 25 new works in two weeks—all of which were performed in one epic afternoon.

My five collaborative music-theater works for voices and piano told the stories of a young woman captivated by a storm (Chase the Rain, written with Erin Courtney); an entomologist and a moth (Fly ’till the light’s gone, written with Sam Chanse); Edmund and The White Witch (Turkish Delight, written with Monet Hurst-Mendoza); two men ready to give up on online dating (Not Sure it’s in Me, written with Jennifer Haley); and a wanderer looking for home in the constellations (Fallen Star, written with Mashuq Mushtaq Deen).

These works were developed and performed with outstanding singer-actors Sean Cooper, Mallory Hawks, Joshua Hinck, Tim Jerome, and Lucia Rodrique, led by the brilliant and indefatigable team of facilitator-dramaturg Ben Krywosz, music director Roger Ames, and coordinator Dina Vovsi. My composer colleagues Ed Cionek, Emily Gardner Hall, Kailey Marshall, and Jonathan Russ were also inspiring to learn from and share with.

“Mabel’s Call” in New York City

Six Scenes collage image

COMPOSERS & THE VOICE: SIX SCENES

Friday, September 30 | 8:00pm
South Oxford Space
138 South Oxford Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Tickets $10

Sunday, October 2 | 2:30 PM
National Opera Center – Rehearsal Hall
330 7th Ave, 7th floor
New York, NY 10001
Tickets $20

More Information & Tickets

An excerpt from my opera-in-progress inspired by the life of Mabel Dodge Luhan will be featured this weekend on Six Scenes: an exciting showcase presented by American Opera Projects.

This concert previews the future of opera with an evening of scenes from six operas developed during AOP’s latest season of Composers & the Voice, the Brooklyn-based fellowship training program that I’ve been privileged to participate in since Fall 2015.

Two scenes from Mabel’s Call will be performed by Tookah Sapper, soprano, as Mabel Dodge Luhan; Blake Friedman, tenor, as Maurice Sterne; and Kyle Guglielmo, baritone, as Tony Lujan, with music director Mila Henry.

Nell’s Taos Residency and Opera Performances

Nell filming at Ranchos de Taos in 2010I first visited Taos in June 2010 while filming my multimedia piece The Faraway Nearby: Georgia O’Keeffe and the New Mexico Landscape. On that trip, I spent a night at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House: a historic home turned into a B&B.

It was there that my interest in Luhan, a memoirist and influential patron of the arts, was first piqued. Who was this glamorous, eccentric character who attracted Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, and countless other Modernist luminaries to her salons?

And wouldn’t she be a fantastic subject for an opera?

Fast forward to 2016. I am honored to have been awarded a Residency Grant from The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico—an arts colony in Taos, where I will be for most of June through August. During this time, I’ll be working primarily on my opera based on the life and memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan.

I’m thrilled beyond words to have the privilege of spending ten weeks living and working in this artistic haven, situated in the scenic multicultural environment of Taos that inspired many of my favorite works of art and formed the heart of Luhan’s life and legacy.

Harwood Museum of Art. Photo: Drew Flack.

Following this residency, my opera-in-progress will receive two exciting showcases in two very different venues!

On August 12, I will present an evening of excerpts from my opera in piano score at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. Visit the Museum’s website for more information.Cover of New Mexico Magazine May 2016 This event will be presented in connection with Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company: American Moderns and the West, a major traveling exhibition that explores Luhan’s impact on the art, writings, and activism of 20th century American Modernism.

The exhibit, and my opera, just received some great coverage in New Mexico Magazine.

Back in New York City, this same project will be featured on AOP’s Six Scenes on September 30 & October 2—the culminating performance of Composers & the Voice.

Six Scenes will feature excerpts from six operas by the emerging composer and librettist fellows in the Composers & the Voice program. After the outstanding performances on the First Glimpse concert earlier this month (recordings forthcoming), I can’t wait to hear what AOP’s resident ensemble of singers and music directors will do with my score.

Bringing Mabel Dodge Luhan to Life through Opera
August 12, 2016, 5:30pm
Harwood Museum of Art
238 Ledoux Street, Taos, NM 87571
More information

Composers & the Voice: Six Scenes
September 30 & October 2, 2016, 8:00pm
South Oxford Space
138 South Oxford Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
More information