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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an American? What is an opera?

usopera.com recommends:
Dawn Upshaw
The World So Wide
Upshaw is one of the foremost interpreters of contemporary opera; this collection of songs from American composers is an essential recording.

What is an American opera?

Seems like a simple question, doesn't it? But to answer it, we have to decide what makes something an opera, and what makes a composer American, both of which are harder to pin down than you might think.

There are plenty of works we can confidently call 'operas'; works written in the nineteenth-century operatic tradition and performed at opera houses by opera singers. But it's not always that simple. The lines between opera and other forms of musical theater are blurring; opera houses now regularly perform works by Stephen Sondheim that were premiered on Broadway, and some more abstract compositions (such as John Adams' El Nino) are amalgams of opera, cantata, and dance piece.

Defining an "American" composer is difficult as well. Aaron Copland was born and worked in America but studied in Europe; Gian Carlo Menotti was born and schooled in Italy but spent most of his career in the United States. Kurt Weill was an established composer of international reputation when he first arrived in the United States, but became an important part of American musical culture.

The composers and operas on this site do not reflect any bright-line rule as to what makes a composer an American, or a piece an opera. The focus of the site is on those composers who considered themselves Americans and on those works intended to be sung by singers trained in the European operatic tradition. Beyond that, if your favorite composer isn't listed, I probably just haven't gotten around to including him or her yet.

I'm a composer. Can you create a page for me or for my opera?

I'm happy to add information on any composer or opera, so long as the composer has had at least one work published or performed professionally.

To add a page for a composer, I need your date and place of birth, and a complete list of your operas, including the date and place of the premiere (or the date of composition for unperformed works).

To add a page for an individual opera, I will need a copy of the piano-vocal score, or a libretto and at least a partial recording. It is also helpful if you can provide information on the premiere and any major subsequent productions.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

How can my group perform one of these operas?

In most cases, you can rent vocal scores and instrumental parts and obtain permission to perform a work from the composer's publisher. The two largest publishers of American opera are G. Schirmer and Boosey and Hawkes.