DAYTON, OH (February 12, 2020) – Dayton Opera is thrilled to announce the April 2021 world premiere of Finding Wright, a new opera and first ever full-length opera commissioned for and presented by Dayton Opera. It will mark the culmination of Dayton Opera Artistic Director Thomas Bankston’s illustrious 25-season career in Dayton, and it will be the concluding production in the company’s 60th Anniversary Season. Finding Wright will premiere at the Schuster Performing Arts Center in downtown Dayton on April 23 and 25, 2021 and is made possible in part by generous commissioning and production funding from the ELM Foundation.
“The unique creative team working on this new opera includes four women who are among the most talented artists on today’s opera scene: composer Laura Kaminsky, librettist Andrea Fellows Fineberg, stage director and dramaturg Kathleen Clawson, and conductor Susanne Sheston,” said Bankston. “The inspiration for this exciting and extremely collaborative venture for Dayton Opera came when two of the creative team were visiting Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery and came across the gravestone of Katherine Wright Haskell, sister of perhaps two of the most famous figures in Dayton’s history, and in fact the world: brothers of flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright. Fineberg and Clawson discovered this unique gem in Dayton’s past during their visit to that historic cemetery, sparking their search to learn more about this amazing woman whose story had to be told.”
This past October, the creative team met for the first time for a workshop reading of Fineberg’s beginning draft of the libretto, assisted by student actors from Wright State University. “We were thrilled by the words of this story of human connection and emotion, centering on the life of Katharine Wright; words that are now inspiring composer Laura Kaminsky’s work as she crafts the music,” Bankston said. “And it could not be more fitting that this woman’s story is being realized by these female artists.”
Finding Wright traces parallel narrative threads that begin with the discovery of the exceptional Katharine Wright, younger sister of Orville and Wilbur, by 21st-century Charlotte (Charlie) Tyler, a young, recently widowed aerospace engineer and academic. As Charlie learns more about the extraordinary events of Katharine’s life, she finds a path toward understanding, connection, and healing.
It is undeniably the story of Katharine, who made significant contributions that ensured the legacy of the Wright family; Katharine, who in a more modern era would have made her own singular mark on history; Katharine, whose simple yet resonant gestures speak to us across time and cleared pathways for men and women in the decades that followed her life, a life cut short too soon.
Comments from the composer and librettist:
“Finding our way to Finding Wright has been a joyful experience, from the very beginning when Tom Bankston imagined this as a celebration of Dayton Opera and the Dayton community,” said composer Laura Kaminsky. “What a gift it was to receive Andrea Fellows Fineberg’s glorious libretto, a meditation on love, grief and resilience, yet with humor and joy in good measure. Andrea has brought Katharine Wright’s remarkable journey to light as a backdrop for the contemporary character Charlotte, who finds inspiration for her own troubled life in Katharine’s unique story. I am so looking forward to having this all come together in Dayton.”
Librettist Fineberg added, “On my first visit to Dayton, Kathleen Clawson took me on a tour of the historic sites of the area. Among the sites was Woodland Cemetery and the graves of Wilbur and Orville Wright. There between the brothers’ markers was a third marker: Katharine Wright Haskell. ‘Katharine Wright Haskell?’ we asked each other. In that moment the story of Finding Wright was born. Finding Wright is one answer to that question, ‘Katharine Wright Haskell?’—one of the many answers and one of the many stories of this remarkable woman.”
The artistic team for Finding Wright will come together for further workshop work on this new opera in the coming months as the composition process moves toward the April 2021 premiere. Casting and further production team personnel will be announced soon, as well as community engagement initiatives related to this story that is rooted in Dayton history.
About the artistic team:
Composer Laura Kaminsky has been hailed as “one of the top 35 female composers in classical music” by The Washington Post. She writes music “full of fire as well as ice, in an idiom that contrasts dissonance and violence with tonal beauty and meditative reflection. It is strong stuff.” (American Record Guide). Her opera As One (2014; librettists Mark Campbell & Kimberly Reed) is the most-produced contemporary opera in the U.S., with 40 productions to date. Her music has been singled out as “masterful” with “a fluidity of pacing that is so idiomatically theatrical it’s hard to believe she’s a relative newcomer to opera” (San Francisco Classical Voice). Her new work Hometown to the World (libretto: Reed; Opera For All Voices Consortium) premieres in 2020. February (co-librettist with Lisa Moore), her opera commissioned by Newfoundland’s Opera on the Avalon, premieres in 2023. Composer Mentor for WNO’s American Opera Initiative (2019-20), she is head of composition at Purchase College Conservatory of Music/SUNY. She is on the boards of Opera America and Hermitage Artist Retreat. Scores: Bill Holab Music; CDs: Affeto/Naxos, Albany, Bridge, BSS, CRI, Capstone, Mode, MSR. A new recording, Pianist Ursula Oppens Plays Kaminsky, is slated for a 2021 release on Cedille. laurakaminsky.com
Andrea Fellows Fineberg, librettist, has been associated with Santa Fe Opera for over 29 years and Director of Community Engagement since 1993. She brings a deeply rooted love and appreciation for the performing arts to her work as administrator, educator, producer, and librettist. As a librettist she has collaborated with John Kennedy (Trinity), Stephen Paulus (Shoes for the Santo Niño) and Joseph Illick (UnShakeable, in commemoration of the Shakespeare 400). For Dayton Opera she has created original dialogue for Mozart’s The Magic Flute and The Abduction from the Seraglio. Co-founder of the Academy for the Love of Learning’s Lifesongs, she has helped develop original musical narratives with individuals in hospice care. Recognized by the City of Santa Fe with a Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (2004), she received the 2018 Max Coll and Catherine Joyce Coll Award for Distinction in Arts Education. For six years she served as a national commissioner to UNESCO and on the Obama Arts Policy Committee (2008 and 2012).
Dramaturg and stage director Kathleen Clawson’s multifaceted career includes education, directing, and performing. She has served on the faculty of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of New Mexico since 1997, where she teaches courses in musical theatre, directs and serves as the Department Publicity Director. She has worked for the Santa Fe Opera for over eighteen seasons and is the Associate Director of their Apprentice Singer Program and Director of the Young Voices of the Santa Fe Opera. Kathleen Clawson considers Dayton her “home away from home” as she has worked closely with Artistic Director Thomas Bankston directing operas with Dayton Opera since 2009, including more than 15 productions over these last 11 years. She has also appeared three times as a guest soloist with Dayton Philharmonic. She knows the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance artistic team and staff intimately, so she is the perfect person to bring this new work to the stage in Dayton.
Susanne Sheston, conductor for the world-premiere performances of Finding Wright, brings a wide range of conducting experience to this project. Sheston served as a staff conductor with Utah Opera and Utah Symphony for over ten years. She is currently the Chorus Master of the acclaimed Santa Fe Opera, and she has collaborated with many of the world’s leading operatic and symphonic conductors. She was chorus master for the Grammy Award–winning recording (Best Opera Performance, 2019) of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, recorded live at Santa Fe Opera on the Pentatone label. Her work can also be heard on the 2016 Grammy-nominated recording of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain.
Finding Wright is currently part of the Dayton Opera Subscription Package for the 2020–2021 season, which is available for purchase now at www.daytonperformingarts.org. Single tickets for this performance will go on sale in June 2020. To learn more about Finding Wright or the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, visit www.daytonperformingarts.org.
About the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance
The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance was formed in July 2012 as the result of a groundbreaking and innovative merger between the Dayton Ballet, the Dayton Opera, and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Together, they are the largest performing arts organization in the community, offering a tremendous variety of performance and education programs and setting a new standard for artistic excellence. Dayton Performing Arts Alliance performances are made possible in part by Montgomery County and Culture Works, the single largest source of community funds for the arts and culture in the Miami Valley. The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance also receives partial funding from the Ohio Arts Council, a state agency created to foster and encourage the development of the arts and to preserve Ohio’s cultural heritage. Funding from the Ohio Arts Council is an investment of state tax dollars that promotes economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohio residents. In 2013, The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance was thrilled to be one of five performing arts organizations in the country selected to receive a three-year “Music Alive” grant from New Music USA and the League of American Orchestras. The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance is the proud recipient of a 2017-2018 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.