The cover of The Opera Issue of The Dramatist
Composers on Composing Opera

The following transcript is from the DG Opera Committee librettists webinar, August 11, 2021, moderated by Lila Palmer with Nicolas Lell Benavides, Paola Prestini, Scott Davenport Richards, Kamala Sankaram, Stephen Schwartz, and Huang Ruo and has been edited for print.

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LILA PALMER:  It’s such an honor to be here. I’m a librettist and opera consultant as well as Interim Managing Director of American Lyric Theater. My practice is based in empathy, optimism, and sharing concealed narratives. Today we are speaking with a very accomplished bunch of composers. Let’s start off with a small question which probably has a significant answer, but we’ll try and be succinct. Why opera? 

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is a Los Angeles-based composer originally from New Mexico. He frequently collaborates with librettist Marella Martin Koch and has worked with groups such as the Washington National Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival, Music of Remembrance, New Opera West, West Edge Opera, Nashville Opera, Shreveport Opera.


has collaborated with poets, filmmakers, and scientists in large-scale multimedia works that chart her interest in extra-musical themes ranging from the cosmos to the environment. She has created, written, and produced large scale projects such as the largest communal VR opera, The Hubble Cantata with Royce Vavrek, and the eco-documentary currently on PBS, The Colorado.


is a composer/librettist whose works reside somewhere at the intersection of jazz, opera, and musical theatre. He has been commissioned by Cincinnati Opera, The Public Theater, and Signature Theatre, among others. Hailed as a “masterpiece,” his opera Blind Injustice (with David Cote) is available on CD or streaming services.


moves freely between the worlds of experimental music and contemporary opera. A composer/performer known for her work pushing the boundaries of opera, she has created opera in virtual reality, over Zoom, and even a ten-hour opera for the trees of Prospect Park. More info at


composed the libretto and score for the opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon, which starred Lauren Flanigan in productions at Opera Santa Barbara and New York City Opera. Better known for his work in musical theatre, he wrote the music and lyrics for Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked, among others.


has been lauded by The New York Times for having “a distinctive style.” His operas include Dr. Sun Yat-Sen with Candace Mui-ngam Chong, Bound with Bao-Long Chu, Paradise Interrupted with Jennifer Wen Ma, An American Soldier and M. Butterfly with David Henry Hwang, Book of Mountains and Seas (composer and librettist).