Film Stills

National Sawdust Commission*

Currently in Development / World Premiere 2020

The Film Stills project pairs each of four of Cindy Sherman’s iconic Film Stills with a separate composition that takes the audience into the world of each scene. Much like Sherman expanded the possibilities of using only one model in her work, the opera challenges conventional operatic musical texture by using only one voice. This collaboration explores the world inside of the Film Stills through the use of both acoustic and amplified soundscapes in an intimate dramatic chamber music setting.

Royce Vavrek, Librettist

Royce Vavrek is a Canada-born, Brooklyn-based librettist and lyricist who has been called “the indie Hofmannsthal” (The New Yorker) a “Metastasio of the downtown opera scene” (The Washington Post), “an exemplary creator of operatic prose” (The New York Times), and “one of the most celebrated and sought after librettists in the world” (CBC Radio). His opera “Angel’s Bone” with composer Du Yun was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

With composer Missy Mazzoli he wrote “Song from the Uproar,” premiered by Beth Morrison Projects in 2012, and subsequently seen in multiple presentations around the country. Their second opera, an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves,” premiered at Opera Philadelphia to critical acclaim in September of 2016. The work won the 2017 Music Critics Association of North America award for Best New Opera and was nominated for Best World Premiere at the 2017 International Opera Awards. Their next opera, an adaptation of Karen Russell’s short story “Proving Up,” was commissioned by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and The Miller Theatre, and will be presented by the three institutions in 2018. They are currently developing a grand opera for a future season at Opera Philadelphia.

His collaboration with composer David T. Little led Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal to proclaim them “one of the most exciting composer-librettist teams working in opera today.” In April of 2016 they premiered their first grand opera, “JFK,” at Fort Worth Opera, a co-commission with American Lyric Theater and Opéra de Montréal that was called “ravishing” (Opera News), earning a ten-star review in Opera Now Magazine. This followed the success of their first opera, “Dog Days,” which received its world premiere in September of 2012 at Peak Performances @ Montclair, in a production co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and directed by American maverick Robert Woodruff. The work was celebrated as the Classical Music Event of the year by Time Out New York and a standout opera of recent decades by The New York Times. They are currently developing an original work for the Metropolitan Opera through the Met/LCT commissioning program.

Royce has also worked extensively with composer Paola Prestini, first on the song cycle “Yoani,” inspired by the blog posts of Yoani Sanchez, and then on “The Hubble Cantata,” a virtual reality oratorio produced by VisionIntoArt/National Sawdust in association with Beth Morrison Projects. The latter work, called “a thundering opus” by Hyperallergic has been presented by BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!, Kennedy Center and LA Opera, and was preserved in a studio recording released by National Sawdust Tracks. They are currently working on a number of new projects including an operatic adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” with director Robert Wilson; “The Glass Box” for the Young People’s Chorus of New York; and an adaptation of Carlos Reygadas’ film “Silent Light” with Thaddeus Strassberger. This year they will also workshop “Film Stills,” a project for mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti that dramatizes four of Cindy Sherman’s iconic photographs through musical monologues composed by Paola, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly and Du Yun, and directed by R.B. Schlather. Royce and Paola’s collaboration can be further heard on the AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope recording, where their song “Union,” as sung by Isabel Leonard, is featured.

In 2014 Royce premiered “27,” his first collaboration with composer Ricky Ian Gordon, at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Created for renowned mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, the work brought to life Gertrude Stein’s famous salon at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris. Mark Ray Rinaldi of the Denver Post wrote that the opera “tells a great American story, about Gertrude Stein, as well as opera in the 21st century.” The opera was subsequently presented by Pittsburgh Opera and MasterVoices at New York City Center, and will next be seen at Michigan Opera Theater. In 2017 their adaptation of Gail Rock’s Christmas classic “The House Without a Christmas Tree” for Houston Grand Opera was premiered to critical acclaim.

Other recent and upcoming projects include “Strip Mall” with Matt Marks for the Los Angeles Philharmonic; “Diana Vreeland” with Mikael Karlsson for VisionIntoArt; “Midwestern Gothic” with Josh Schmidt for Signature Theatre, Virginia; “Naamah’s Ark” with Marisa Michelson for MasterVoices; “O Columbia” with Gregory Spears for HGOco; and “Knoxville: Summer of 2015” with Ellen Reid for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and National Sawdust.

Royce is co-Artistic Director of The Coterie, an opera-theater company founded with Tony-nominee Lauren Worsham. He holds a BFA in Filmmaking and Creative Writing from Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal and an MFA from the Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program at New York University. He is an alum of American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program.

Missy Mazzoli, Composer

Missy Mazzoli was recently deemed “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York” (The New York Times) and “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” (Time Out New York). Her music has been performed all over the world by the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, pianist Emanuel Ax, Opera Philadelphia, LA Opera, Cincinnati Opera, New York City Opera, Chicago Fringe Opera, the Detroit Symphony, the LA Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, JACK Quartet, cellist Maya Beiser, violinist Jennifer Koh, pianist Kathleen Supové, Dublin’s Crash Ensemble, the Sydney Symphony and many others. Her second opera, Breaking the Waves, a collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and Beth Morrison Projects, premiered to great acclaim in Philadelphia in September 2016 and as part of New York’s Prototype Festival in January 2017.  The work was described as “among the best 21st-century operas yet” (Opera News), “savage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original” (Wall Street Journal), and “dark and daring” (New York Times). From 2012-2015 Missy was Composer-in-Residence with Opera Philadelphia, Gotham Chamber Opera and Music Theatre-Group, and in 2011/12 was Composer/Educator in residence with the Albany Symphony. Missy was a visiting professor of music at New York University in 2013, and later that year joined the composition faculty at the Mannes College of Music, a division of the New School.

Upcoming projects include Missy’s third opera, Proving Up, commissioned by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and New York’s Miller Theatre.  Proving Up will premiere in January 2018 at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, in April 2018 at Opera Omaha, and in September 2018 at Miller Theatre. A collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek and based on a short story by Karen Russell, Proving Up offers a surreal and disquieting commentary on the American dream through the story of a Nebraskan family homesteading in the late 19th century.  Missy also recently created orchestral arrangements for the Icelandic band Sigur Rós, which will premiere as part of the LA Philharmonic’s Iceland Festival in April 2017, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.  The coming season will also include performances of Missy’s first opera, Song from the Uproar at Cincinnati Opera, and Missy will perform live sets on piano, keyboards and electronics at venues including the Palm Springs Art Museum and Brooklyn venue Roulette.  Along with composer Ellen Reid and in collaboration with the Kaufman Music Center, Missy recently founded Luna Lab, a mentorship program for young female composers ages 13-19.

This season included performances of her multimedia chamber opera Song from the Uproar at LA Opera and Chicago Fringe Opera, the premiere of Ecstatic Science, a new work for chamber sextet yMusic at Carnegie Hall, and other performances of her work by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth and the Kronos Quartet.  Missy also wrote and performed several pieces for the hit Amazon TV series Mozart in the Jungle.  Previous seasons included the 2014 Carnegie Hall premiere of Missy’s Vespers for a New Dark Age, performed by her ensemble Victoire, percussionist Glenn Kotche (of Wilco), and vocalists Mellissa Hughes, Martha Cluver and Virginia Kelsey. Vespers was released in March 2015 on New Amsterdam Records along with Missy’s own remixes of the work and a remix of her piece A Thousand Tongues by longtime collaborator Lorna Dune.  The New York Times called Vespers for a New Dark Age ravishing and unsettling”, and the album was praised on NPR’s First Listen, All Things Considered and Pitchfork.  Victoire returned to Carnegie Hall in March of 2015 as part of the “Meredith Monk and Friends” concert, performing Missy’s arrangements of Monk’s work.  Missy also recently created new works commissioned and premiered by the LA Philharmonic, the Young People’s Chorus of New York, ETHEL, Roomful of Teeth and pianist Emanuel Ax, who has performed Missy’s Brahms-inspired Bolts of Loving Thunder on tour around the country.

Earlier projects include the critically acclaimed sold-out premiere of Missy’s first opera, Song from the Uproar, in a Beth Morrison production at New York venue The Kitchen in March 2012. The Wall Street Journal called this work “powerful and new” and the New York Times claimed that “in the electric surge of Ms. Mazzoli’s score you felt the joy, risk, and limitless potential of free sprits unbound.” Time Out New York named Song from the Uproar Number 3 on its list of the top ten classical music events of 2012. In October 2012, Missy’s operatic work, SALT, a re-telling of the story of Lot’s Wife written for cellist Maya Beiser and vocalist Helga Davis, premiered as part of the BAM Next Wave Festival and at UNC Chapel Hill, directed by Robert Woodruff. This work, including text by Erin Cressida-Wilson, was deemed “a dynamic amalgamation that unapologetically pushes boundaries” by Time Out New York. Missy also created several orchestral arrangements for innovative Danish band Efterklang’s most recent album, Piramida. Efterklang premiered these arrangements with the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera House in May 2012, and went on to perform them around the world.

Missy is an active pianist and keyboardist, and often performs with Victoire, a band she founded in 2008 dedicated to her own compositions. Their debut full-length CD, Cathedral City, was named one of 2010′s best classical albums by Time Out New York, NPR, the New Yorker and the New York Times, and was followed by the critically acclaimed Vespers for a New Dark Age. In the past nine years they have played in venues all over the world including Carnegie Hall, the M.A.D.E. Festival in Sweden, the C3 Festival in Berlin, Millennium Park (Chicago), The Winter Garden (New York, as part of the Bang-on-a-Can New Music Marathon), Overtoom 301 (Amsterdam), The Music Gallery (Toronto) and Le Poisson Rouge (New York, as part of the Wordless Music Series). In February 2011 they joined The National, Owen Pallett and Efterklang on a tour of the Netherlands as part of the Cross-Linx Festival, and in November 2011 joined My Brightest Diamond (Shara Worden) for performances in Belgium and Paris. Pitchfork praised Victoire for “condensing moments of focused beauty and quiet conviction from the pandemic distractions of modern life,” WNYC dubbed the group “consuming and arresting,” and NPR’s First Listen asks “Is Victoire’s music post-rock, post-mimimalist or pseudo-post-pre-modernist indie-chamber-electronica? It doesn’t particularly matter. It’s just good music.

Missy’s music has been recorded and released on labels including New Amsterdam, Cedille, Bedroom Community, 4AD and Innova.  Artists who have recorded Mazzoli’s music include eighth blackbird (whose Grammy-winning 2012 CD Meanwhile opened with Missy’s work Still Life with Avalanche), Roomful of Teeth, violinist Jennifer Koh, violist Nadia Sirota, NOW Ensemble, Newspeak, pianist Kathleen Supove, the Jasper Quartet, and violinist Joshua Bell, who recorded Missy’s work for the Mozart in the Jungle soundtrack.  In November 2012 the original cast recording of Missy’s first opera, Song from the Uproar, was released on New Amsterdam Records. WQXR’s Daniel Stephen Johnson called this album “Solid gold…flowing from one number to the next, the music tells its own story, building to a series of emotional climaxes with the narrative assurance of a bonafide opera composer.

Missy is the recipient of a 2015 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award, four ASCAP Young Composer Awards, a Fulbright Grant to The Netherlands, the Detroit Symphony’s Elaine Lebenbom Award, and grants from the Jerome Foundation, American Music Center, and the Barlow Endowment. She has been awarded fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Ucross, VCCA, the Blue Mountain Center and the Hermitage.  She is also active as an educator and a mentor to young composers; in 2006 she taught composition in the Music Department of Yale University, and from 2007-2010 was Executive Director of the MATA Festival in New York City, an organization dedicated to promoting the work of young composers.

Missy attended the Yale School of Music, the Royal Conservatory of the Hague and Boston University.  She has studied with (in no particular order) David Lang, Louis Andriessen, Martin Bresnick, Aaron Jay Kernis, Martijn Padding, Richard Ayres, John Harbison, Charles Fussell, Martin Amlin, Marco Stroppa, Ladislav Kubik, Louis DeLise and Richard Cornell.

Her music is published by G. Schirmer.

Nico Muhly, Composer

Nico Muhly is an American composer and sought-after collaborator whose influences range from American minimalism to the Anglican choral tradition. The recipient of commissions from The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the
Philadelphia Orchestra and others, he has written more than 80 works for the concert stage, including the operas Two Boys (2010), Dark Sisters (2011), and Marnie; the song cycles Sentences (2015), for countertenor Iestyn Davies, and Impossible Things (2009), for tenor Mark Padmore; a viola concerto for violist Nadia Sirota; the choral works My Days (2011) and Recordare, Domine (2013), written for the Hilliard Ensemble and the Tallis Scholars respectively and most recently Looking Up (2017), a work for choir and orchestra for the Cathedral Choral Society.

Muhly is a frequent collaborator with choreographer Benjamin Millepied and, as an arranger, has paired with Joanna Newsom and Antony and the Johnsons, among others. Planetarium, a large work co-written with Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner, was released on 4AD records. He has composed for stage and screen, with credits that include music for the 2013 Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie and scores for the films Kill Your Darlings; Me, Earl And The Dying Girl; and the Academy Award-winning The Reader. Born in Vermont, Muhly studied composition with John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse at the Juilliard School before working as an editor and conductor for Philip Glass. He is part of the artist-run record label Bedroom Community, which released his first two albums, Speaks Volumes (2006) and Mothertongue (2008). He currently lives in New York City.

Paola Prestini, Composer

Paola Prestini is “the enterprising composer and impresario” (New York Times) whose interdisciplinary vision is helping to shape the future of new music. Named one of Musical America’s “Top 30 Musical Innovators 2016” and one of the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music” (Washington Post), her music has been commissioned by and been performed at Carnegie Hall, the Chicago Symphony (Music Now), the New York Philharmonic (Biennale), The Los Angeles Philharmonic (Green Umbrella Series) New York City Opera (VOX), the Morgan Library/The Juilliard School, the American Composers Orchestra, and the Kronos Quartet. Her compositions have been performed worldwide, from the Kennedy Center, BAM, and the Park Avenue Armory, to London’s Barbican Centre. She has collaborated with Beth Morrison Projects, Brooklyn Rider, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the Attacca Quartet, the Young People’s Chorus, vocalists such as Christopher Burchett, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Jessica Rivera, Hila Plitmann, Rinde Eckert, and Helga Davis, librettists Cerise Jacobs, Donna Di Novelli, Mark Campbell, and Royce Vavrek, conductor Julian Wachner, performers such as Maya Beiser, Tim Fain, Ian Rosenbaum and Jeffrey Zeigler, and Directors such as Michael Counts Julian Crouch, and Robert Wilson.

Presitini is the co-founder and Artistic Director of National Sawdust, a nonprofit Brooklyn-based space for arts incubation, performance, and recording, and serves as “visionary-in-chief” (Time Out New York) of VisionIntoArt, the non-profit multimedia production company she co-founded as a student in 1999 which was now merged with National Sawdust. VIA is the sustaining force behind more than one hundred original productions to date. Prestini recently presided over the launch of VIA Records, hailed as “an essential new voice in the future of American Classical music” (Q2 Music), now relaunched as the National Sawdust Label.

Incorporating powerful visual and dramatic components, Prestini’s multimedia creations address such extra musical issues as conversation astrophysics, and politics. She works frequently with Creative Producer Beth Morrison to create large scale multimedia works that include the opera epic Gilgamesh, for Arts Emerson at the Cutler Majestic; the Labyrinth Installation Concertos performed at the Isabella Gardner Museum and commissioned by the Krannert Center;The Hubble Cantata commissioned by Bay Chamber Concerts and VisionIntoArt/NS, with virtual reality by Eliza Mcnitt and narrations by astrophysicist Mario Livio performed at Bric’s Celebrate Brooklyn to an audience of +6,000, the Kennedy Center and LA’s Ford Theater; Aging Magician with performer/librettist Rinde Eckert, director/designer Julian Crouch, instrument inventor Mark Stewart and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, commissioned by the Walker Art Center and Krannert Center with performances at ASU Gammage and the New Victory Theater. Other projects include Epiphany for the Young People’s Chorus, performed at BAM’s 2015 Next Wave Festival;The Colorado, Murat Eyuboglu’s eco/film cantata developed at MASS MoCA for Roomful of Teeth, Glenn Kotche, and Jeffrey Zeigler, (performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, houston’s Da Camera series, Stanford Live and the Kennedy Center); The Hotel That Time Forgot, for orchestra and video artist premiered at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra; We Breathe Again, a film score to be released soon on PBS with a stellar group including Nels Cline, Jeffrey Zeigler, Cornelius Dufallo, David Cossin, and Tanya Tagaq; and

The Imaginary world of Wild Order for the Mass Re-Imaginings Projects commissioned by Choir of Trinity Wall Street with text by Brenda Shaughnessy.

Large scale works in development include music for the next installation of Murat Eyuboglu’s River project, next focused on the Amazon, and several operas in different scales, and different phases of completion: Two Oars, a new grand opera with Robert Wilson to workshop next at Zagreb Opera and in development at the Watermill Center, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and inter-generational grand opera for Minnesota Opera with Mark Campbell and Eric Simonson, Film Stills, a new chamber opera series (Nico Muhly and Missy Mazzoli are the other composers) with RB Strassberger and Royce Vavrek based on the famed Carlos Reygadas film.

Presitini’s honors include two ASCAP awards, a fellowship from Paul & Daisy Soros, and the Sundance Institute. She has been granted residencies at MASS MoCA, The Park Avenue Armory, The Watermill Center, Florida’s Hermitage Artist Retreat, Wyoming’s Ucross Foundation, and LMCC Governors Island. Passionate about education, she has taught at inner city schools i New York, with the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall, with El Sisterna in Venezuela, and at institutions and in the field in Italy, Africa, and Mexico.

Paola Prestini’s music is released on VIA Records, Innova, and Tzadik Records; her writing is published in the Arcana series by Hips Road, and she is the editor of the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composer handbook. A graduate of the Juilliard School, she studies under Samuel Adler, Robert Beaser, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

R.B. Schlather, Director

Eve Gigliotti, Performer

Eve Gigliotti premiered the roles of Ruth in Dark Sisters by Nico
Muhly (Gotham Chamber Opera and Opera Philadelphia); The
Mother in The Bricklayer by Greg Spears (HGOco); Yoani Songs,
a song cycle by Paola Prestini (Bay Chamber Music Festival); and
“Archaeology,” a song written exclusively for her by acclaimed
composer/librettist team David Little and Royce Vavrek featured in
the Opera America Songbook.

Among other notable companies, Ms. Gigliotti has performed with
The Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Wolf Trap Opera,
Minnesota Opera, Odyssey Opera, and Opera Santa Barbara.

For More Information Contact:

Courtenay Casey (courtenay@nationalsawdust.org)