2024 Opera Highlights

2024 Opera Highlights
Innocence, Kaija Saariaho/Sofi Oksanen and Aleksi Barrière (Photo credit Tristram Kenton/Royal Opera House)

Ahead of Opera America’s 2024 Opera Conference and the World Opera Forum in Los Angeles, Wise Music is pleased to present new highlights from our opera catalog. Across major premieres, new productions, and first recordings, our composers and their collaborators explore both contemporary issues and timeless themes of love, desire, and belonging. 

These works address the rich spectrum of human experience through drama and song, from the culpability for environmental degradation (The Shell Trial) to the psychology of modern warfare (Grounded); from our vulnerability to charismatic and corrupt leaders (The Listeners) to the inevitability of death and our imaginations of the afterlife (El ultimo sueño de Frida y Diego and Eurydice). 

Listen to these works (where available) and other dramatic vocal music by these artists:


Upcoming Premieres 

Around the World in 80 Days, Jonathan Dove/Peter Lund 

Jonathan Dove’s beloved dramatic works have filled opera houses with audiences of all ages across five continents. His latest work is sure to continue this trajectory, offering a delightful family opera based on the novel by Jules Verne that follows Englishman Phileas Fogg’s mad dash to circumnavigate the globe. Around the World in 80 Days was commissioned by Zurich Opera and is sung in German; an English singing translation is forthcoming. It premieres in November 2024 with stage design by Hanna Stejskal, music direction by Michael Richter, and Peter Lund as producer.  


Bulrusher, Nathaniel Stookey/Eisa Davis, based on the play by Eisa Davis 

Based on Eisa Davis’ Pulitzer-shortlisted play of the same title, Bulrusher is a finely wrought coming-of-age story set in 1950s northern California. The title character is a young Black girl raised by a local teacher in an all-white community, after having been abandoned as small child. Bulrusher has never met anyone like herself until a young Black woman from Alabama comes to town. This meeting triggers her political, social, and sexual awakening, changing her life forever. Bulrusher is sure to be a moving operatic experience, combining the “erotic and psychological tension” of Davis’ drama (Theatrely) with Stookey’s “taut and tender” vocal writing (San Francisco Chronicle). Bulrusher premieres this August at West Edge Opera as the company’s first full-length opera commission. 


Innocence, Kaija Saariaho/Sofi Oksanen and Aleksi Barrière  

Kaija Saariaho’s final opera finds her at the height of her musical and dramatic powers. Set in early 21st century Helsinki, Innocence deals with the aftermath of a shooting at an international school. Ten years after the murders, the shooter’s brother is to be married. As the wedding festivities unfold, the trauma of the past interrupts. “Saariaho and Oksanen have a masterpiece on their hands […] the psychology and phenomenology of the opera feel so acutely contemporary that the listener becomes inexorably drawn into and implicated in the world of the tragedy.” (The Times Literary Supplement). Performances occurred throughout 2023 at the Royal Opera House (April-May 2023) and Dutch National Opera (October 2023), and in June 2024 San Francisco Opera will give the North American premiere.


The Comet, George Lewis and Douglas Kearney based on the short story by W.E.B. DuBois 

Lewis and Kearney’s The Comet draws on DuBois’s 1924 science fiction story about a Black man and a white woman, who are the only survivors of an apocalyptic comet impact. In its premiere run, The Comet will be juxtaposed with Claudio Monteverdi’s 1643 opera L'incoronazione di Poppea to create The Comet / Poppea, a dual work in which the two pieces unfold simultaneously on a turntable divided in half. Drawing on DuBois’s concept of “double consciousness,” the piece explores exclusion in classical music by creating what director Yuval Sharon calls “an uneasy tessellation between the Baroque and the contemporary.” The Comet / Poppea is produced by Anthony Roth Costanzo and Cath Brittan, The Industry, AMOC*, and Curtis Institute of Music; it opens at The Museum of Contemporary Art in June 2024 and Philadelphia’s 23rd Street Armoury (performed by Curtis Opera Theatre) in November. 


The Listeners, Missy Mazzoli/Royce Vavrek, based on a story by Jordan Tannahill 

Co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, Norwegian National Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Listeners is Mazzoli and Vavrek’s fourth operatic work together as a creative team. It focuses on the “hum,” a mysterious and omnipresent environmental noise that only a select few “Listeners” can hear. The skepticism of their communities makes them easy targets for “dazzling and predatory” leaders. The opera is above all “a story about vulnerable people’s struggle to cope with life, and how vulnerable we are to manipulation when the foundations of our lives collapse.” (NRK) The Listeners premiered at Norwegian National Opera in September 2022, in a production directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz. The same production comes to Opera Philadelphia in September 2024, for the opera’s US premiere, and to Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2025. 


Recent Premieres  

A Room of One's Own, Outi Tarkiainen/Francis Hüsers and Virginia Woolf 

Outi Tarkiainen’s debut opera with German librettist Francis Hüsers is based on Virginia Woolf’s seminal 1928 essay A Room of One's Own. The piece grapples with two central questions: What are the conditions necessary for creating art? And why, from one century to another, do “women merely flit as shadows across the stage in the arts and history?” The opera is set in 1920s England and has three main characters, each called Mary. They are all intelligent, educated women, who ultimately spread before the viewer’s eyes the whole gamut of human life, in all its grittiness, passions and realities. Tarkianen’s colorful orchestral writing supports the onstage action and helps lead the opera to a hopeful conclusion. Commissioned and premiered by Theater Hagen in 2022, A Room of One’s Own was re-mounted at Savonlinna Opera Festival in Tarkiainen’s native Finland in July 2023. 


El último sueño de Frida y Diego, Gabriela Lena Frank/Nilo Cruz 

Sung in Spanish, Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz’s El ultimo sueño de Frida y Diego (“The Last Dream of Frida and Diego”) is a fantastical postscript to the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Set during the Day of the Dead, Cruz’s libretto envisions the deceased Kahlo returning to earth to help an ailing Rivera make his own journey to the afterlife. Above all, it is the chance to see colors and paint once more that moves Kahlo to return to the world. Frank’s debut opera score “shuttles eloquently between the worlds” (Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal), and has enchanted audiences across the United States. El último sueño premiered at San Diego Opera in 2022, and has since been staged by San Francisco Opera (June 2023), LA Opera (November-December 2023), and Opera Omaha (May 2024). 


Eurydice, Matthew Aucoin/Sarah Ruhl 

Based on a play by librettist Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice explores the classic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with keen attention to the inner life of its heroine. In March 2024, Matthew Aucoin conducted the first performances of a new Eurydice at Boston’s historic Huntington Theatre. Commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Grand Rapids, this “lush, musically rich, and intimate” (WBUR) version scales the orchestra down to sinfonietta and omits the original chorus. Throughout, the work “leavens seriousness with comedy” (Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal), especially in its fresh depiction of Hades and his underworld; Orpheus’ aria that opens the gates to hell is sung in Latin at the demand of a trio of animated stones, who deadpan that “you can’t sing here. Unless you sing in a dead language.” The sparseness of this new version highlights both the humor and depth of character that define Eurydice. 


Grounded, Jeanine Tesori/George Brant 

Following on the critical acclaim of Blue, Tesori’s newest opera with librettist George Brant investigates the psychology of a fierce fighter pilot who transitions to remotely operating a drone after her unexpected pregnancy. Advertised as “war with all the benefits of home,” this new assignment’s dark side gradually becomes clear as the boundaries of the pilot’s life begin to collapse. Grounded is sure to provoke serious thought on the ethics of drone strikes, and the novel psychological costs of new forms of warfare, as well as deeply personal experiences of love and loss. Commissioned by and co-produced with the Metropolitan Opera, Grounded premiered at Washington National Opera in 2023. Michael Mayer’s high-tech production comes to the Metropolitan Opera in September 2024 under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin; Emily D’Angelo stars as Jess. 


Orfeo, Claudio Monteverdi/Alessandro Striggio, arr. Nico Muhly 

Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo is a pillar of early opera repertoire but does not have a standard orchestration by its composer. In 2023, Santa Fe Opera commissioned a new orchestration by composer Nico Muhly, which preserves much of Monteverdi’s sound world while adding compelling touches of Muhly’s own language. “Tremolos of shimmering tension, glassy violins giving way to arpeggiated textures, and dirge-like calls from low brasses” (The New York Times) yield a practical, modern score that opens up the work to opera companies without period instruments or historically informed musicians on staff 


Oryx and Crake, Søren Nils Eichberg/Hannah Dübgen, based on a novel by Margaret Atwood 

Canadian author Margaret Atwood is widely considered one of the most influential writers of science and speculative fiction. Her novel Oryx and Crake is an incisive, post-apocalyptic tale of powerful multinational corporations ruling a world inside walled compounds. Commissioned by Das Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden and premiered in 2023, Eichberg and Dübgen’s operatic treatment focuses on the protagonist Snowman, and his relationship with the titular Oryx and Crake through a series of flashbacks. Eichberg’s score draws on a wide array of sonic resources, using electronics and rock-inspired timbres, leitmotifs and moments of sweet song to depict both the devastation and beauty of Snowman’s world.  


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Joby Talbot/Gene Scheer 

Based on the novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly tells the story of Bauby’s life after the massive stroke that left him with “locked-in syndrome,” with his mind completely intact but his body almost totally paralyzed. Despite being able to communicate only by blinking his left eye, Bauby dictated the entirety of his novel letter-by-letter to his speech therapist and editor. Talbot and Scheer’s opera is a moving treatment of this true story that meditates on our deep need to communicate and make sense of our lives through art and storytelling. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly premiered at The Dallas Opera in November 2023. 


The Shell Trial, Ellen Reid/Roxie Perkins, based on a play by Rebekka de Witt and Anoek Nuyens  

Premiered by Dutch National Opera in March 2024 with stage direction by Gable and Romy Roelofsen, Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins’ latest operatic effort follows their “incandescent” Pulitzer Prize-winning chamber opera p r i s m. The Shell Trial is centered on a 2021 legal case in which the Shell oil company was ruled legally responsible for its contribution to climate change. The libretto offers a nuanced consideration of guilt, culpability, and the possible consequences of the climate crisis, with archetypal characters (“The Artist,” “The CEO,” “Climate Refugees”) each given a chance to offer their perspectives. Reid’s dazzling musical range lends each of these characters a unique musical voice. The result is “an ambitious, passionate show” that “powerfully lay[s] out a vision for a future in which the world changes but we do not.” (The New York Times) 


Three Lunar Seas, Josephine Stephenson/Ben Osborn 

Commissioned by Opéra d’Avignon and premiered in 2023, Three Lunar Seas tells interconnected stories inspired by the Moon’s Sea of Fertility, Sea of Tranquility, and Sea of Serenity. Addressing contemporary issues ranging from our responsibility for the climate to the impact of disease on our relationships, Three Lunar Seas features Stephenson’s characteristically “bewitching combination of dissonance and sweet-toned cantabile.” (Bachtrack).   


New Productions 

Blue, Jeanine Tesori/Tazewell Thompson 

Blue marked a watershed moment in opera's engagement with race. After a joyful opening, tragedy soon strikes when the protagonists’ teenage son is killed by a white police officer. Thompson’s libretto is “eviscerating in its fury and grief […] yet it’s equally, painfully, full of love and tenderness” (BBC Music). Tesori portrays all these voices with sympathy and a wide musical palette, drawing on allusions to gospel, blues, and jazz. 2023 saw a new production of Blue by English National Opera under the stage direction of Tinuke Craig, as well as a remounting of the original production with Thompson as director at Dutch National Opera. 


Breaking the Waves, Missy Mazzoli/Royce Vavrek, based on a film by Lars von Trier 

Breaking the Waves is a psychological drama set in the Scottish Highlands and centered on Bess, a religious young woman who falls deeply in love with an oil rig worker named Jan. When Jan is paralyzed in an accident, his desires and Bess’s obedient love collide to lead Bess down a path that leaves her isolated and abused by her uncompromising community. Both Vavrek and Mazzoli sympathize deeply with Bess’s vulnerability and devotion; Vavrek writes that he has “been haunted by the story since first seeing Lars von Trier’s film in 1997,” and Mazzoli that she has “never had a story sing to her like that of Bess McNeill’s.” In the past year, a new production debuted at at Musiktheater Bremerhaven with director Toni Burkhardt, and Tom Morris’ production has traveled to the Opéra Comique in Paris and to Detroit Opera for its US Premiere. 


Europeras 3 & 4, John Cage 

Iconoclast John Cage reassembles the European operatic tradition as a collage in Europeras 3 & 4. Featuring live singers; gramophone operators manipulating recorded excerpts of preexistent operas; and lighting, staging, and costume design dictated by chance procedures, the Europeras enact an “anarchic anti-canon” that provides a unique presentation of operatic history. Director Yuval Sharon’s new March 2024 production for Detroit Opera featured a cast including Davóne Tines and Susan Graham and brought these works to the stage with “levity and vigor” (VAN Magazine). 


Florencia en el Amazonas, Daniel Catán/Marcela Fuentes-Berain 

While Florencia en el Amazonas contains its share of loss, its central theme is the redemptive power of love. Set aboard the steamship El Dorado on a voyage down the Amazon for the opera diva Florencia Grimaldi’s long-awaited homecoming concert, Florencia’s plot and atmosphere are inspired by the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez. Catán’s gorgeous vocal writing and lush orchestrations evocatively portray the many loves—emerging, rekindling, and remembered—of Florencia’s cast. As the first Spanish-language opera commissioned by a major American opera company and a work that “fulfills one of opera’s highest duties: to leave the listener’s senses swooning” (New York Observer), Florencia was staged by The Metropolitan Opera in December 2023, with Mary Zimmerman directing, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting, and Ailyn Perez starring in the title role. 


Marx in London, Jonathan Dove/Charles Hart, based on an original scenario by Jürgen Weber 

Set across a single day in summer 1871, Marx in London follows the philosopher and economist Karl Marx as he is beset by his troubled wife, his illegitimate son, his overly curious daughter, and his notorious lack of capital. It is vivid mix of chorusing workers, soapbox oratories, and a “superb drinking song duet that is surely destined to become a popular party piece” (The Guardian). Stephen Barlow’s new production from Scottish Opera opened in February 2024. 


The Handmaid’s Tale, Poul Ruders/Paul Bentley, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood 

Ruders and Bentley’s “terrifyingly relevant” (The Telegraph) dramatization of the landmark novel by Margaret Atwood enjoys performances throughout 2024. In June, a new production stage directed by Peter Carp opens at Theatre Freiburg. In September, the John Fulljames production recently mounted at the Royal Danish Theatre comes stateside with a run of performances at San Francisco Opera under the baton of Karen Kamensek.   


X: The Life and Times of Malcom X, Anthony Davis/Thulani Davis (with story by Christopher Davis) 

Written in 1986, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X remains profoundly and devastatingly relevant in its investigation of racism in America. Throughout the work, Anthony Davis deftly nods to a wide range of Black American music (swing, scat, modal jazz, hip-hop) to create a fast-paced, evocative series of vignettes that chronicle the incredible life of the great thinker and activist Malcolm X. X saw its long-overdue debut at The Metropolitan Opera with staging by Tony-nominated director Robert O’Hara and a newly-revised score conducted by Kazem Abdullah in 2023. X feels all-too-relevant today—in its summoning of a painful national past, in its attention to structural racism built deeply into our society, and in its honoring of a single extraordinary life bent on challenging the status quo.” (Boston Globe)  


Premiere Recordings 

Buddha Passion, Tan Dun 

Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion is the first passion written on a Buddhist rather than Christian narrative. To compose it, Tan Dun spent two years researching the musical history of the Mogao Caves and surrounding area, even recreating some of the instruments depicted in the caves’ murals, which span 1000 years of Buddhist art. While Buddha Passion has thus far been performed as a concert work, its visual inspiration and multilayered storytelling call out for operatic staging. Listen to the “riot of color” (Gramophone) of the world premiere recording, released on Decca. 


The Lord of Cries, John Corigliano/Mark Adamo 

The Lord of Cries is John Corigliano’s first opera since his collaboration with William M. Hoffman on The Ghosts of Versailles (1991). Set to a seductive libretto by Mark Adamo, The Lord explores our need to blame and attack others for what we can neither resist, nor accept, in ourselves. The story synthesizes The Bacchae of Euripides with Bram Stoker’s Dracula to create a streamlined tale of horror, in which duty battles yearning in each character’s heart. Corigliano’s score effectively conveys the tense atmosphere of Dracula preying on London’s women, and his quartet writing for the protagonist and the “three strange sisters” that accompany him is particularly otherworldly. Originally commissioned by Santa Fe Opera, The Lord of Cries “breathtaking” world premiere recording (Van Magazine) features Odyssey Opera, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and stars Anthony Roth Costanzo in the title role. 

For more information, please contact your local Wise Music Promotion Team. See Contact Us.