Cincinnati Opera Announces 2015 World Premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s “Morning Star”

MUSIC BY RICKY IAN GORDON LIBRETTO BY WILLIAM M. HOFFMAN BASED ON THE PLAY BY Lead support provided by the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Opera will present the world premiere of the opera Morning Star, with music by Ricky Ian Gordon and a libretto by William M. Hoffman, during the company’s 2015 Summer Festival. The opera will be performed at the Corbett Theater at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, which was inaugurated as Cincinnati Opera’s second-stage venue during the 2013 season. Morning Star marks the company’s first world premiere in more than 50 years, and will be presented on June 30, July 2, 8, 10, 12, 17, and 19, 2015. 

“We had an amazing experience with our co-commission ofMargaret Garner in 2005, and we have been searching for the ideal successor ever since,” said Patricia K. Beggs, General Director and CEO of Cincinnati Opera.

“Cincinnati Opera’s world premiere production of Morning Starsignals our firm commitment to present and produce new American operas, a direction that the company has been following since our 2002 production ofDead Man Walking,” said Evans Mirageas, The Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director of Cincinnati Opera.

Adapted from Sylvia Regan‘s 1940 play of the same name, the opera Morning Star follows the Feldermans, a family of Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City, during the early twentieth century. Their struggles epitomize the immigrant experience as they encounter the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, World War I, the Great Depression, and the labor movement. Through their journey, the opera addresses with humor and humanity such issues as political ideology, race, religion, and identity. 

Soprano Twyla Robinson, whose Cincinnati Opera performances include the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (2013) and Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (2010), will star in the world premiere as matriarch Becky Felderman. The opera will be directed by Ron Daniels, who staged the world premiere of the new American opera Il Postino at LA Opera in 2010, and conducted byChristopher Allen, assistant conductor at LA Opera.

Hailed as a “major composer” by The New Yorker, Ricky Ian Gordon is a leading writer of vocal music that spans art song, opera, and musical theater. Gordon’s songs, known for their “lyrical exuberance” (Opera News), have been performed by such internationally renowned singers as Renée Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Nathan Gunn, Kelli O’Hara, Audra MacDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, and Nicole Cabell. He is also the composer of the 2007 opera The Grapes of Wrath, adapted from the novel by John Steinbeck

 Gordon was inspired by the remarkable resonances between the play and his personal history. “Morning Star is a piece that feels very close to my heart. The constellation of the Felderman family, three daughters and a son, the youngest, is the same as mine. The mother is named Becky, and the central event in the opera is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. My mother’s mother was named Becky, Rebecca Lieberman, and she worked at the Triangle. The day of the fire, she was home sick, but her mother dragged her out of bed to see what was happening. She watched her good friends and colleagues jumping out of the window in flames. She never got over it. One of the daughters in the opera, Fanny, is a singer who is censored by her husband from singing publicly, lest men gawk at her. This was my mother, Eve Gordon’s story.”

“So you see, when we were adapting Sylvia Regan’s brilliant play, I felt curiously like I was writing my own family story,” Gordon continued. “There is a free eclecticism about the score as well as an ethnicity that seemed to happen from the closeness of the story, and the characters feel like living beings to me. I look forward to this community coming to life on the opera stage.”


 Gordon and Hoffman, the librettist of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, began work onMorning Star over a decade ago, while Gordon was the Freeman Composer in Residence at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The pair returned to the piece when it was chosen for an Opera Fusion: New Works residency in November 2012. Opera Fusion: New Works, a unique partnership between Cincinnati Opera and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) Opera department, offers residencies to American composers or composer/librettist teams to develop new operas.


Following the ten-day Opera Fusion: New Works workshop, the creative team presented two highly successful public readings of Morning Star. Cincinnati Opera then offered Gordon and Hoffman the opportunity to continue to refine the piece, and the team returned to Cincinnati for a second intensive residency in April 2013. Ron Daniels also acted as both stage director and dramaturg for the two workshops.


“I am so happy that we will premiere our Morning Star at Cincinnati Opera, where we have had such a rich time workshopping the piece along with CCM and the Opera Fusion: New Works program,” said Gordon.


“For me, Morning Star is a near-ideal example of why opera possesses a power unique among the lively arts,” said Evans Mirageas, The Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director of Cincinnati Opera. “While we often take great joy in the pure and direct catharsis of operatic comedy, stories likeMorning Star allow us to illuminate timeless social issues. Morning Star achieves this on two levels. It powerfully makes the case for the protection of laborers with the backdrop of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which gave rise to the creation of the Ladies Garment Workers Union, a key moment in the labor movement and a key moment for women’s rights. And it also reminds us that the family, no matter how unusually it may be constituted, provides an emotional shelter and support vital to survival. As Becky Felderman says more than once in the opera, ‘the family abides.’”


The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati has provided a lead gift of $50,000 in support of Morning Star production costs and community programming focused on issues raised in the opera. “The Jewish Foundation is very pleased to be partnering with Cincinnati Opera in the presentation of this important new work, whose narrative themes resonate with the story of the American Jewish experience,” said Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati Executive Director Brian Jaffee. “The Opera’s track record of leveraging its performances through innovative community outreach and engagement programming aligns with our motivation to invest in initiatives that benefit both the Jewish community as well as the broader Cincinnati community in which we live.”


To introduce Morning Star to a national audience, Cincinnati Opera and OPERA America will present Creators in Concert: Music and Words with Ricky Ian Gordon on Wednesday, May 7, at The National Opera Center at 330 Seventh Avenue in New York City. The program will feature the composer in discussion with Evans Mirageas, as well as performances of selections from Gordon’s recent and upcoming works, including Morning Star. The program will be immediately followed by a reception at The National Opera Center. The event begins at 7:00 p.m., and will be streamed live on the OPERA America website. Tickets are free to OPERA America members and $20 for non-members; reservations are available through the OPERA America website at


About Opera Fusion: New Works

Opera Fusion: New Works, a unique collaboration between Cincinnati Opera and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) Opera department, was created in 2011 to foster the development of new American operas. The program offers composers or composer/librettist teams the opportunity to workshop an opera during a10-day residency in Cincinnati, utilizing the talent, personnel, and facilities of both organizations. The workshops are cast with a combination of CCM students and professional artists, and each workshop concludes with a public performance. The program is led by co-artistic directors Marcus Küchle, Director of Artistic Operations of Cincinnati Opera, and CCM’s Robin Guarino, the J. Ralph Corbett Distinguished Chair of Opera. Opera Fusion: New Works is generously funded by a $300,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Cincinnati Opera’s 2014 Summer Festival will take place June 12 through July 27, featuring Georges Bizet’s Carmen, Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s Silent Night, Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto, and Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The season will open with Opera in the Park, a free community concert in Washington Park, on June 8. Cincinnati Opera’s 2014 Season Presenting Sponsor is PNC. The 2014 season is also made possible with support from ArtsWave, Ohio Arts Council, The Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund, and many generous individuals, corporations, and foundations.