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Opera by Interlochen Arts Academy alum receives prestigious commissioning grant

 Composer Paola Prestini headshot
Photo by Caroline Tompkins
Composer Paola Prestini

Brooklyn-based Beth Morrison Projects has received an OPERA America Commissioning Grant for "Old Man and the Sea," a new opera composed by Interlochen alumna Paola Prestini.

OPERA America recently awarded its Commissioning Grants to seven opera companies to support new operas composed by women.

Black and white logo for Beth Morrison Projects

One of the recipients was the Brooklyn-based Beth Morrison Projects for its commission of "Old Man and the Sea," composed by Paola Prestini — a 1993 graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy.

Prestini's "Old Man and the Sea" is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novella of the same name.

"The opera interpolates additional stories based on oral accounts of elders who look back on their lives and livelihoods through the prism of untaught life-lessons that allowed them to self-actualize," Prestini told Classical IPR.

In "Old Man and the Sea," with a libretto written by Royce Vavrek, a cast of six women and a 30-person choir guard the world’s culture by weaving their memories and stories into fishing nets for future generations to use.

"The dual tracks of the Hemingway story and portraits of quotidian life combine to create a look at aging, legacy and our relationship to oceans," Prestini said. "I am fascinated by water: its ability to heal, nurture and separate."

Prestini and Vavrek's "Old Man and the Sea" will be presented in a future season at Beth Morrison Projects and will be directed by Karmina Šilec.

Among Beth Morrison Projects' past commissions are "Breaking the Waves," an opera by Missy Mazzoli inspired by the 1996 Lars von Trier film of the same name, and "Angel's Bone," an opera by Du Yun that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Prestini, the composer, studied music composition while at Interlochen. She also attended Interlochen Arts Camp.

In 1999, while she was still a student at The Juilliard School, Prestini co-founded the nonprofit production company VisionIntoArt.

Other notable projects include scoring the PBS documentary film "The Colorado" and starting the Hildegard Competition, a mentorship program for emerging female, transgender and non-binary composers.

Prestini also co-founded the non-profit music organization National Sawdust in 2015, where she currently serves as Artistic Director.

In 2011, WXQR and NPR included Prestini on their list of the top 100 composers under age 40.

Beth Morrison Projects was one of seven opera companies that received a total of $100,00 from OPERA America to support new works composed by women. The other six recipients were the American Opera Project, Finger Lakes Opera, Long Beach Opera, Opera Birmingham, Spoleto Festival USA and Opera San José. Learn more about these seven organizations and their commissioned works here.

Prestini said this award is crucial for the creation of "Old Man and the Sea."

"I am grateful to be able to follow my muse and to continue the work on this essential tale," she said.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.