96-Hour Opera Festival

• $10,000 PRIZE and COMMISSION

Now in its third season, the 96-Hour Opera Festival celebrates emerging creative talents from historically under-recognized communities and offers a path into the art of opera.

After two years in development, we proudly present the first world premiere emerging from this program with Norris & Ebo’s Forsyth County is Flooding (with the Joy of Lake Lanier).

Meet our composers and librettists selected for the 2024 competition. Bringing their completed ten-minute operas to Atlanta, the creative teams rehearse their productions for 96 hours with guidance from specialists in the field.

The 96-Hour Opera Project Showcase is open to the public, and five more world-premiere mini-operas are presented to the judging panel in an exciting race for the Antinori Foundation Grand prize.

The Atlanta Opera welcomes an exceptional group of judges to review and determine the winners of a $10,000 award and an Atlanta Opera commission.

All tickets are general admission
The 96-Hour Opera Festival Showcase – $10
Forsyth County is Flooding  – $20
Both Performances – Festival Package – $25


The Antinori Foundation
Grand Prize


Finalists & Teams

Timothy Amukele

Dr. Timothy Amukele is a Jack of two trades: a working physician, and a composer and arranger of vocal music. Most recently he served as the Minister of Music at the historic St. James Episcopal church in Baltimore Maryland while on faculty at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

He has worked closely with the librettist Jarrod Lee on several commissions including a 2021 song cycle Journey To You based on the photography of William Christenberry (1936–2016), and Spirit Moves, a 2022 community opera for the IN Series opera company in DC. Jarrod Lee and Tim Amukele are working on Kandake.

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His other commissions include I Will Rise by the New York Chapter of the National Association of Negro Musicians; Composer-in-residence for the Grady-Rayam Spirituals Foundation in 2011 (an honor that is bestowed every year to one arranger of spirituals including Uzee Brown, Joseph Joubert and Ronald Carter); and What Sweeter Music, a Christmas Cantata by the Queen Anne Methodist Church. His 2021 commissions include the American Spiritual Ensemble; and MADMAN, a song cycle based on the parables of the Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran that is scheduled to premiere at the Fort Worth Opera in 2024.

Dr. Amukele graduated from City College of the City University of New York, where he majored in Music Theory and Biochemistry.

Jarrod Lee

Jarrod Lee, librettist, hails from Sylacauga, Alabama and presently resides in Baltimore, Maryland. Jarrod’s collaborations include Oshun and Two Corners with composer B.E. Boykin, Voices of Zion and the art song See your Equal, which placed third in the composition category of the George Shirley Vocal Competition, with composer Ronald “Trey” Walton and collaborations with composer, Timothy Amukele called Journey to You and a community opera called Spirit Moves. Jarrod has received commissions from the Alliance for New Music Theater, IN Series, Finger Lakes Opera, and the Washington National Opera.

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In addition to original stories, Jarrod has worked in translating a deconstruction of Die Zauberflӧte (The Magic Flute) called Black Flute with playwright Sybil Roberts. In concert with writing and performing, Jarrod is the Education Associate for Maryland Opera, volunteers as the Director of Project Managers with the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts (CAAPA) and serves on the board of Baltimore Musicales. As an opera singer, Jarrod draws from his performance experiences when creating new stories for fellow artists. His works are rooted in his experience of being Black, Gay and American; adding to the canon of stories written by Black Americans which are rarely seen on the operatic stage. For more information: JarrodLee.com

George Tsz-Kwan Lam

Hong Kong-born composer George Tsz-Kwan Lam (b. 1981) grew up in Hong Kong and Massachusetts. Lam’s recent works focus on connecting audiences with stories from their local communities through contemporary music. Such projects include his recent work Family Association (2022), co-commissioned by University Settlement and Music At The Anthology. Family Association is a geolocation-enabled soundwalk in Manhattan’s Chinatown that combines oral history recordings with music inspired by the recorded speech.

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Another musical placemaking work titled The Emigrants (2018), commissioned by the cello-percussion duo New Morse Code, tells the stories of seven musicians who emigrated to Queens, New York City and combines oral history recordings with live music for cello and percussion. Lam recently launched a new geolocation-based work titled Passage, supported by a two-year grant from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong. The award provides approximately US$61,000 of funding toward a new oral history and geolocation-enabled app highlighting the stories of minoritized communities of Hong Kong. Current projects include Kiyoshi Kuromiya: Critical Path for solo clarinet and fixed media playback (commissioned by clarinetist Shawn Copeland) and a new collaborative theatrical work with choreographer Jeff Docimo and toy pianist Dorothy Chan.

Lam’s music has been featured at the Tianjin Juilliard School, the Kaufman Music Center, the 2019 Re:Sound Festival in Cleveland, the 2020 New Music Gathering, the 2021 Hot Air Music Festival, and the 2021-22 MATA Presents season. George served as the 2018 composer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Opera Company and a 2021-22 artist-in-residence at University Settlement in New York City. George Tsz-Kwan Lam is a founding member of the NYC-based new opera ensemble Rhymes With Opera. George Tsz-Kwan Lam has also previously served as Associate Professor of Music at Hong Kong Baptist University and Assistant Professor of Music at York College CUNY. For more information, please visit www.gtlam.com

David Davila

David Davila is a multi-hyphenate theatre maker from the border of South Texas; where the wall has stood since George W’s administration. Winner of the 2022 Smith Prize for Political Theatre and the 2021 New American Voices Playwriting Award, his work stands at the intersection of queer-culture and mestizaje ranging from plays and musicals, topoetry and stand-up comedy.

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An alumnus of The Second City Training Center in Chicago and the Primary Stages Playwriting School in Manhattan, he is a proud charter member of Musical Theatre Factory, the Latinx Playwright Circle, the Latine Musical theatre Lab, the PlayGround Experiment, Lone Star Theatre, and the son of a preacher man. His theatre works include MANUEL VERSUS THE STATUE OF LIBERTY: AN UNDOCUMENTED MUSICAL COMEDY (Dramatic Question Theatre, Princeton Univ, Gallery Players), AZTEC PIRATES, A LATINX FANTASIA ON NATIONAL THEMES, PART ONE: THE INSIGNIFICANCE OF LIFE ON MARS (Lone Star Media), PART TWO: THE INEQUITY OF SACRIFICE (Brooklyn Cultural Arts Center), HOTEL PUERTO VALLARTA: A LEGITIMATE WORK OF DRAMATIC THEATRE (Houston Stages), PROMESA: A MARIACHI MUSICAL (Musical Theatre Factory), ANIMAL HUSBANDRY (Fringe NYC), SCISSORS UNDER THE HOUSE (Latinx Playwrights Circle), #52SONGS (The Underground, The Beachman), ADAN Y JULIO Y LA FRONTERA 2003 (Viva Theatre), THE PIÑATA (Indiana Univ, KCACTF), TALES FROM HIGHWAY 281 (Intar Theatre), THE MESQUITE TREE, AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY (Theatro Audaz), 1970’S COLLEGE SEX COMEDY (Indiana Univ), and more.

He is a Playwrights Horizons Artist Grant Recipient, a Roundabout Theatre Company SpaceJam Resident, a Primary Stages Rockwell Scholar, and a 2022 Disney TV Fellowship Finalist. Most recently, his streaming series MOST LIKELY TO premiered at the Warner Bros New York Latino Film Festival and won a prestigious Silver Telly award for excellence in film. In 2021 his song “Like a River” written with Jaime Lozano was recorded by Tejano superstar, Bobby Pulido, and released on Broadway Records. In 2024 his MFA thesis production VOX POP! A POST-DEMOCRATIC MUSICAL (Book, Music, & Lyrics) premiered at Indiana University. Follow him on social media at @davidodavila, or visit his website for more info: daviddavila.net.

Evan Williams

Drawing from inspirations as diverse as Medieval chant to contemporary pop, the music of composer and conductor Evan Williams (b. 1988) explores the thin lines between beauty and disquieting, joy and sorrow, and simple and complex, while often tackling important social and political issues. Williams’ catalogue contains a broad range of work, from vocal and operatic offerings to instrumental works, along with electronic music.

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He has been commissioned by notable performers and ensembles including the Cincinnati and Toledo Symphony Orchestras, Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, Quince Ensemble, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, and more, with further performances by members of the Detroit, Seattle, and National Symphonies, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the American Brass Quintet, The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” New Music Detroit, Fifth House Ensemble, Splinter Reeds, the Verb Ballets, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. His work has also been featured at festivals such as MATA, RED NOTE, Strange Beautiful Music, SEAMUS, the New Music Gathering, the Electroacoustic Barn Dance, the New York City Electronic Music Festival, and the New Music Festival at Bowling Green State University.

Williams’ work can be heard on multiple commercial releases, including soprano Katherine Jolly’s critically acclaimed debut album Preach Sister, Preach. Gramophone Magazine described his song cycle Emily’s House as “wistful” and praised his settings of Emily Dickinson’s poetry as “ratherbeautifu[l].”

Williams has received awards and recognition from the American Prize, the National Federation of Music Clubs, ASCAP, Fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and in 2018, was chosen as the Detroit Symphony’s inaugural African-American Classical Roots Composer-in- Residence. He currently serves as the Steven R. Gerber Composer-in-Residence for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

Williams completed his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Composition with a cognate in Orchestral Conducting at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. There, he studied with Michael Fiday, Mara Helmuth, and Douglas Knehans, and served as a teaching assistant in electronic music. He holds a Masters degree from Bowling Green State University (Bowling Green, OH), and a Bachelors from the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University (Appleton, WI). His other primary teachers have been Asha Srinivasan, Joanne Metcalf, Christopher Dietz, Mikel Kuehn, and Marilyn Shrude. He has also received instruction in festivals, masterclasses, and lessons from composers Julia Wolfe, Caroline Shaw, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, David Maslanka, Libby Larson, Evan Chambers, Stacy Garrop, Dan Visconti, and others. He has also trained at the Bard Conductors Institute and the Band Conducting and Pedagogy Clinic at the University of Michigan.

Originally from the Chicagoland area, Williams currently resides in Boston, MA, and serves as Assistant Professor of Composition at the Berklee College of Music, where he teaches composition, conducting, music technology, harmony, and counterpoint. He previously held teaching positions at Rhodes College, Lawrence University, Bennington College, and at The Walden School’s Young Musicians Program.

Ashlee Haze

Kiera “Ashlee Haze” Nelson is a poet and spoken word artist from Atlanta by way of Chicago. She is the winner of a 2023 Silver Telly Award for original copywriting and voiceover. She has been a part of the Atlanta Poetry circuit for over a decade and has been writing for over 15 years. Ashlee Haze has brought poetry to unexpected spaces, including New York Fashion Week, Atlanta United Soccer, THINX, The Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, The Atlanta Dream, H&M, Blavity, and more. She appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk series alongside Queen & Slim composer Blood Orange.

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After her poem “For Colored Girls who Don’t Need Katy Perry when Missy Elliott is Enough” went viral, Missy Elliott was so moved she showed up at the poet’s house. Ashlee is the host of Moderne Renaissance, an educational podcast for creatives. Her sophomore book “SMOKE” was released April 20, 2020 with a second edition released May 2023.

Ashlee began writing at the age of ten, performing her first piece at a church Mother/Daughter Banquet. After that, writing became something she did almost daily. By age 15 she was regularly performing at public competitions and events. In 2006, she was the Grand Prize Winner of V-103’s “Got Word” Youth Poetry Slam and has participated in the art/sport ever since. In her senior year of high school, she served as co-president of South Gwinnett High’s Writers’ Society Club and had been published in three national publications. In August 2009, she made her first trip to the National Poetry Slam in which Java Monkey placed fifth in the nation. From 2009-2018 Ashlee competed and coached in National Poetry Slam Competitions across the country. Ashlee Haze holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Georgia State University, Atlanta. As of September 2016 she is a full-time poet and artist. In 2020, in response to the global pandemic, she created Philosophy Media Group, a boutique media production agency based in Atlanta, GA. Under this agency she has collaborated across genres with Atlanta-based artists as well as artists globally to produce film and audio stories that represent her lived experiences. Collaborators include Devonte Hines, Andrea Gibson, script-writer and poet sxr gripp, classical collective Ensemble Vim, the Band of Brothas, Dad’s Garage, Mexican artist Jiony, violinist Carey Durham, renowned bassist Tèja Veal, as well as many others. She spends her time watching cooking competition shows and telling the stories not often told.

Kitty Brazelton

For pioneering NYC composer, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Kitty Brazelton, music is personal, and the personal is universal. Winner of two Opera America awards, Aaron Copland Fund for Music and an NPR-broadcast choral commission with Garrison Keillor, the irrepressible Brazelton has always championed music’s power to unite—across genre, across tradition, across language.

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Brazelton’s recording project “the world is not ending—we’ve been here before” brings six works—like “STORM”, a retranslation of 3rd-c. BCE Psalm 104 to face the rising seas, extreme weather, fires and floods of climate change—into immersive audio, with over 75 singers and instrumentalists recorded worldwide.

Premiered by L. A.-based all-woman Isaura String Quartet, Brazelton confronts the creeping erosion of identity in our algorithmic lives with I am not my Photograph (you cannot erase me). A cappella Essential Prayers Project quietly revisits the tradition of prayer in intimate house concert settings, making powerful words of hurt and hope accessible to everyone in the room.

Most recently, after leaving her professorship to compose full time, Brazelton teamed with digital multimedia MASARY Studios to create Recursion and Release— four hours of live a cappella choral music digitally transformed for FirstWorks Providence RI’s street festival. Brazelton’s vocal quintet sang newly composed polyphony, with text from American Buddhist Jack Kornfield’s guided “Meditation on Letting Go,” while thousands of attendees embarked on a physical journey through spatialized choral clouds of sound and light in the dark garden, chapel and sanctuary of an 1847 church.

“Brainy, boisterous and quintessentially downtown.”–Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

“impressive nerve”—Rolling Stone

“one of the more brilliant lights”— The New York Times

Vaibu Mohan

Vaibu Mohan is a writer, musician, dancer, director, and producer specializing in bringing South Asian forms of storytelling and theater making into the Western sphere. She founded the series Work In Progress at 54 Below which gives early career writers a place to present their work. New York City premieres include: Life of A Lemon (NYU/AOP Opera Labs), Keep It Cheery (Brooklyn Children’s Theater), and the concert presentation of Sati: Goddess Incarnate at 54 Below in July 2023.

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Mohan debuted off-Broadway songwriting debut Village Songs at Rattlestick Theater (Spring 2022) and is a writing consultant on White Rose (off-Broadway January 2024). As a Bharatnatyam performer and creator, Mohan creates pieces that stretch the genre and explore connections between disparate artforms. Mohan has performed at 54 Below, Greenroom 42, La Mama Theater, Lincoln Center, and Midnight Theater. She is a graduate of the NYU Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

Lauren McCall

Lauren McCall is a composer and music educator from Atlanta, Georgia. She studied for her master’s degree in music composition at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she is a Ph.D. student studying music technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Lauren has had compositions performed around North America and Europe. This includes her piece for open instrumentation titled To Cover You, which was performed at the Fresh Inc. Festival, and Continuum, which was performed by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Laptop Orchestra.

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She enjoys collaborating with technologists, musicians, and artists. Along with composing, Lauren enjoys playing classical music and jazz on the clarinet and piano, spending time in nature, spending time with family and friends, and traveling.

Mo Holmes

Mo Holmes is a black queer Southern playwright and dramaturg, born in San Antonio and raised on the long stretch from Texas to Alabama. Her works include: WE SO SHORT (honors: 2022 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist; development: 2019-2020 Playwrights’ Center Many Voices Mentorship), AMANDA (development: 2024 Tennessee Williams Clarksdale Workshop with Lucy Thurber), YR GOD MY GOD (production: 2021 Minnesota Opera MNiatures), and GRWM (development: 2021 Everwood Farmstead Retreat; 2019 Center for Performing Arts New Works Artist-in-Residence in Minneapolis).

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As a dramaturg she has supported the development of several new works, including Lynn Nottage’s CLYDE’S (fka FLOYD’S) at the Guthrie and Brittany K. Allen’s REDWOOD at the Jungle Theatre in Minneapolis; and Brian Grandison’s DIESEL HEART at the History Theatre in St. Paul. Current MFA candidate: Playwriting, Columbia.

About the Competition


“The 96-Hour Opera Project expands the canvas on what is possible in opera. By representing voices that were traditionally unrepresented in the opera canon, we can rejoice in the power of story.”

Andrea Davis Pinkney
Judge, The 96-Hour Opera Project


“The opportunity to create, workshop and explore solutions right on the spot was an invaluable element of this program. That paired with all the fantastic networking made it an excellent program.”

Participant, The 2022 96-Hour Opera Project


“The 96-Hour Opera Project is an ambitious, unique initiative that is striving to connect directly with the greater Atlanta community. Atlanta Opera is breaking new ground with this competition and other companies would do well to follow suit.”

Participant, The 2022 96-Hour Opera Project

Artistic Advisor

Morris Robinson

Internationally renowned bass, GRAMMY Award winning vocalist and Atlanta native Morris Robinson will serve as the artistic advisor again for this year’s competition, working with creative teams throughout the competition as well as serving as one of the judges. 

“The level of talent here is stunning. I cannot wait to hear and see what they prepare over the coming months.”


Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director

Tomer Zvulun

“The rich history of Atlanta rests not only in the lives of the most famous, but in the courage and strength of even the most unacclaimed people,” said Tomer Zvulun. “Our goal is to lift up the inspirational stories that reflect the multicultural history of Atlanta and to amplify the voices of a diverse group of talented emerging creators.”



Paul Cremo

Paul Cremo has overseen projects developed through the Met / Lincoln Center Theater New Works Program, as well as full commissions for the Met stage, including Grounded by Jeanine Tesori and George Brant; The Hours by Kevin Puts and Greg Pierce; Eurydice by Matthew Aucoin and Sarah Ruhl, Intimate Apparel by Ricky Ian Gordon and Lynn Nottage at Lincoln Center Theater, Nico Muhly and Nicholas Wright’s Marnie,  Nico Muhly and Craig Lucas’s Two Boys, revised versions of Fire Shut Up in My Bones Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemons and Champion by Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristoffer, Jeremy Sams’s The Enchanted Island and his English-language version of The Merry Widow, J. D. McClatchy’s English-language adaptation of The Barber of Seville, Jeremy Sams and Douglas Carter Beane’s English-language version of Die Fledermaus and Kelley Rourke’s English-language adaptation of Cinderella.

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He is currently supervising development of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Mason Bates and Gene Scheer, Lincoln in the Bardo by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek, as well as upcoming works by Valerie Coleman, Maxim Kolomiiets, David T. Little, Jessie Montgomery, Joshua Schmidt, Joel Thompson, and Carlos Simon, and working with librettists George Brant, Lynn Nottage and Ruby Aiyo Gerber, Dick Scanlan, Gene Scheer, and Royce Vavrek. He has served on the Tony Awards Nominating Committee and the jury for the Pulitzer Prize for Music and served as an advisor to the Sundance Theater Lab.

Doug Hooker

Doug Hooker is CEO of the Connector Foundation, an initiative to build a public park over a portion of the connector highway in Atlanta. Throughout his career, Doug Hooker has worked for public sector and private sector organizations. He “retired” in March 2022, having led the Atlanta Regional Commission for many years. Currently, he serves as the board chairman of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. He also serves on the boards of the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Latin American Association, the Fox Theatre, the Clayton State University Foundation, and St. Vincent de Paul.

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He is a Special Fellow and Professor of Practice with the Urban Studies Institute, of Georgia State University, where he teaches urban and regional governance. He is also on the board of directors of Barge Design Solutions, a privately-held engineering and architecture firm. Hooker has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Georgia Tech, and an MBA Emory University.

Although it has never been his vocation, Doug has had a lifelong passion for music. In pursuit of his musical interests, he studies oboe (instructor, Barbara Cook), sings in a semi-professional community chorus (The Trey Clegg Singers, www.thetreycleggsingers.org), and composes music. Several of his compositions have been publicly performed, including his second symphony, Without Regard to Sex, race or Color (2022) and his first strong quartet, Pandemic Elegy (2023), and two of his choral works, Standin’ My Ground (2022) and Fear Not (2023). Doug and his wife, Patrise Perkins-Hooker, are supporters of The Atlanta Opera and its efforts to reach new audiences and present new works by artists of color.

Andrea Davis Pinkney

Andrea Davis Pinkney is the acclaimed librettist for the Houston Grand Opera’s The Snowy Day, with composer Joel Thompson, a work based on the beloved classic by Ezra Jack Keats. The Snowy Day opera was hailed by the New York Times for its ability to “change perceptions about Black identity and attract new audiences to opera.”

As the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of numerous books, Ms. Pinkney’s work has garnered multiple Coretta Scott King Book Awards, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor, and the Parenting Publications gold medal. Good Morning America recognized Ms. Pinkney in GMA’s prestigious “Who’s Making Black History Right Now?” influencer list, and she has been featured on the Today show with Al Roker, as well as Oprah and Friends Radio, for her work as an author.

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She is a four-time NAACP Image Award nominee, and recipient of both the Regina Medal and the Arbuthnot Honor Award, for her singular body of work and distinguished contribution to the field of literature. Additionally, Ms. Pinkney has been inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. She and her work are the subject of the Emmy-nominated short film, Andrea Davis Pinkney: National Author Engagement.

As a producing partner, Ms. Pinkney has served as the creator of numerous theatrical and audio works, based on her bestselling books. Her book Sit-In, about the 1960 Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter protest, was adapted for Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre by acclaimed playwright Pearl Cleage. Ms. Pinkney’s Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, was staged in conjunction with Chicago’s Northlight Theatre.

Ms. Pinkney has served as the script writer for multiple celebrity livestream events and stage productions.  She is a regular and frequent contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered; Weekend Edition; and Here & Now, as well as a contributor to The New York Times, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Essence, and Bustle. 

During the course of her career, Ms. Pinkney has launched and developed many high-profile entertainment, media, and publishing properties.  She has been the chief architect and strategic visionary for Disney Publishing Worldwide’s Jump at the Sun imprint, creator of The Cheetah Girls mega-series. She has served as the driving force for the successful rebranding and expansion of The Polar Express movie tie-in book program. Ms. Pinkney has also been the primary editor for books such as Toni Morrison’s Remember: The Journey to School Integration and Serving from the Hip by world-class tennis pros Venus and Serena Williams.

Ms. Pinkney is the on-air host for KidLit TV’s “The Big Picture LIVE.” She has been named among The Network Journal’s “25 Most Influential Black Women in Business,” and is included in the “50 Over 50 Extraordinary Women” and “Women Who Light up the Arts Scene” power lists in Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day magazines. She has served in executive and creative leadership roles at the Walt Disney Company, Essence magazine, the CBS Magazines Group, and Simon & Schuster. Ms. Pinkney is currently Vice President, Trade Publishing at Scholastic, where she has served since 2005.

She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two-time Caldecott Honor recipient and New York Times bestselling author and illustrator, Brian Pinkney.

To learn more, visit: www.andreadavispinkney.net; Instagram – Andreapinkney1; LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/andreadavispinkney; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andreadavispinkney

Carlos Simon

“My dad, he always gets on me. He wants me to be a preacher, but I always tell him, ‘Music is my pulpit. That’s where I preach,’” Carlos Simon reflected for The Washington Post’s ‘Composers and Performers to Watch in 2022’ list.

Having grown up in Atlanta, with a long lineage of preachers and connections to gospel music to inspire him, GRAMMY-nominated Simon proves that a well-composed song can indeed be a sermon. His music ranges from concert music for large and small ensembles to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism.

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Simon is the current Composer-in-Residence for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and frequently writes for the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera. Simon also holds the position of inaugural Composer Chair of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the first in the institution’s 143-year history. The 2023/24 season sees premiere performances with San Diego Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, The Washington Chorus, and LA Master Chorale. These follow recent other commissions from Minnesota Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera (in collaboration with Mo Willems), Brooklyn Art Song Society, New York Philharmonic and Bravo! Vail, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Glimmerglass Festival, Sphinx Organization, Music Academy of the West, and San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.

Simon’s work spans genres, taking great inspiration from liturgical texts and writers such as Terrance Hayes, Colson Whitehead, Lynn Nottage, Emma Lazarus, Isabel Wilkerson, Ruby Aiyo Gerber, and Courtney Lett, as well as the art of Romare Bearden.

In September 2023, Simon released two albums on Decca. Together is a compilation of solo and chamber compositions and arrangements featuring Simon and guests such as J’Nai Bridges, Randall Goosby, Seth Parker Woods and Will Liverman. The work draws on Carlos’ personal experience as an artist to highlight the importance of heritage and identity, and the power of collaborative music-making. Simon also released the live premiere recording of brea(d)th, a landmark work commissioned by Minnesota Orchestra and written in collaboration with Marc Bamuthi Joseph, conducted by Jonathan Taylor Rush. “Arguably the most important commission of Simon’s career so far” (New York Times), brea(d)th was written following George Floyd’s murder as a direct response to America’s unfulfilled promises and history of systemic oppression against Black Americans.

Simon was nominated for a 2023 GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his previous album, Requiem for the Enslaved. The requiem is a multi-genre musical tribute to commemorate the stories of the 272 enslaved men, women, and children sold in 1838 by Georgetown University, released by Decca in June 2022. This work sees Simon infuse his original compositions with African American spirituals and familiar Catholic liturgical melodies, performed by Hub New Music Ensemble, Marco Pavé, and MK Zulu.

Acting as music director and keyboardist for GRAMMY Award winner Jennifer Holliday, Simon has performed with Boston Pops Symphony, Jackson Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony. He has also toured internationally with soul GRAMMY-nominated artist Angie Stone and performed throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Simon earned his doctorate degree at the University of Michigan, where he studied with Michael Daugherty and Evan Chambers. He has also received degrees from Georgia State University and Morehouse College. He is an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Music Sinfonia Fraternity and a member of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Society of Composers International, and Pi Kappa Lambda Music Honor Society. He has served as a member of the music faculty at Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and now serves as Associate Professor at Georgetown University. Simon was also a recipient of the 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence, the highest honor bestowed by the Sphinx Organization to recognize extraordinary classical Black and Latinx musicians, and was named a Sundance/Time Warner Composer Fellow for his work for film and moving image.

Tazewell Thompson

Tazewell Thompson is an internationally acclaimed award-winning director of opera and theatre and is also a playwright, librettist, lecturer, teacher, and actor. The opera, Blue, which Thompson created with composer Jeanine Tesori, won the Music Critics Association of North America Award for Best New Opera in 2020. The New York Times and Washington Post listed Blue as Best in Classical Music for 2019. Commissioned and produced by Glimmerglass in 2019, Blue has had subsequent productions at Washington National Opera, Dutch National Opera, English National Opera, in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Toledo, New Orleans and upcoming at Chicago Lyric in November 2024. His new opera, Jubilee, about The Fisk Jubilee Singers, will have its world premiere October 2024 at Seattle Opera.

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At Lincoln Center, his newly commissioned libretto for the world premiere of The March to Liberation, was part of the reopening ceremonies for the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall. His poem Ghostlight, about the closing of Broadway theaters during the pandemic, covered the entire page of The New York Times opinion page.

In 1985, he directed his first opera, Aaron Copland’s The Second Hurricane, chosen by Mr. Copland to rewrite the libretto for the occasion of the composer’s 85th birthday celebration. This highly successful production marked the beginning of multiple theatrical offers and a flourishing career as a director and playwright with over 150 directing credits, including many premières in theaters and opera houses across the U.S. and worldwide: France, Africa, Spain, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada.

He holds the record for directing three operas, all in the same 2015-2016 season, in three different theaters at The Kennedy Center: Appomattox(Philip Glass), Lost in the Stars (Kurt Weill), and the American premiere staging of Cato in Utica (Vivaldi). He is the recipient of 9 Barrymore Awards; 5 NAACP Awards and 3 Carbonell Awards; an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award; an EMMY Award nomination for Best Director and Best Classical Production, 2001, for Live from Lincoln Center: Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The 96-Hour Opera Festival?

Now in its third season, the event launched as the “96-Hour Opera Project” has expanded to include developmental workshops and incubator performances of works in production in addition to a composition competition.

The competition, in which teams of composers and librettists have four days to workshop and stage completely new and compelling 10-minute operas, is the heart of the festival. Each team presents its work in a showcase before an audience and a panel of judges.

Winners from the previous year’s competition will have the opportunity to present their developed works in an incubator setting and, the following year, as a more developed workshopped opera.

What is the location of the performance?

In 2024, the 96-Hour Opera Festival will commence on Friday, June 14 and conclude with the competition showcase. The showcase and all public workshops will be hosted in partnership with Morehouse College, School of Music. The competition finals will be open to the public and will be held at the Ray Charles Center for the Performing Arts located at 900 West End Ave, SW in Atlanta on Monday, June 17, 2024.

What if a librettist doesn’t have a composing partner or vice versa?

We will provide an option to pair artists, based on their experience and interests.

Who should apply?

Designed specifically for composers and librettists who have been historically underrecognized in the opera field, the competition is open to composers and librettists who self-identify as part of a demographic underrecognized in opera composition.

There is no age range or limit for applying, but composers and librettists in the early stages of their careers are encouraged to participate. Creators may have acquired significant skills in academic or professional settings, but have not had works performed regularly.

What if a librettist doesn’t have a composing partner or vice versa?

We will provide an option to pair artists, based on their experience and interests.

What resources does the competition provide to participants?

All participating teams will travel to Atlanta after preparing their work in advance of the program. Travel (airfare or mileage reimbursement), housing, singers, pianists, and preparation space will be provided to each composer/librettist team in order to showcase their new mini-operas.

What are the judging criteria for the applications?

Submissions will be evaluated based off of artistic excellence or the potential for artistic excellence, artistic ability, knowledge of both vocal and orchestral writing (composers), and character development (librettists).

Who are the judges for the competition?

Judges for the 2024 competition will be announced soon.

What is the four-day structure?

• Day 1: Fri, June 14, 2024:  Introductions and music rehearsal.
• Day 2: Sat, June 15, 2024:  Rehearsal and staging
• Day 3: Sun, June 16, 2024: Coaching, mentorship with judges, and final prep
• Day 4: Mon, June 17, 2024:  Dress rehearsal, Showcase performance and judging

(Travel days will occur before Day 1 and after Day 4, on 6/13 and 6/18 so composers and librettists should be available 6/13 to 6/18 to participate.)

What are your plans for community participation and digital distribution?

Artists will work with our Story Partner to refine and explore their story prompts during their writing process. 

We’ll invite the community to enjoy the performances on Monday, June 17, 2024. The Atlanta Opera Film Studio will capture aspects of the preparation and the competition showcase. Specific use of the video and audio recordings will be determined by the needs of The Atlanta Opera.  

Past Participants

2023 Competition

Judges’ Choice Winner: Dave Ragland | Selda Sahin with Steele Roots
Judges’ Choice Runner Up / Audience Favorite: Nathan Felix | Anita Gonzalez with Faces In The Flames

Edward Shilts

Laura Barati

Omar Najmi

Catherine Yu

Nathan Felix

Anita Gonzalez

Dave Ragland

Selda Sahin

Jorge Sosa

Alejandra Martinez

2022 Competition

Winner: Marcus Norris | Adamma Ebo with Go On With That Wind

Jorge Sosa

Alejandra Martinez

Johanny Navarro

Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton

Marcus Norris

Adamma Ebo

Roydon Tse

Marcus Yi

Samah Shahi

Isabella Dawis

Carlos Castro

Diana Solomon-Glover

Media Inquiries

Please contact
Michelle Winters, Director of PR and Communications