Chicago Opera Theater – Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer Program

COT identifies promising composers ready to hone the specific skillset required to create quality opera. Composers become an integral part of the company for a period of two years of residency activities, including mentorship from COT staff, industry leaders, and Vanguard Composer Mentor Jake Heggie. The program culminates in a full-length opera commission in collaboration with an established librettist.

Inside the Process

COT opens up opportunities for Chicago audiences to become part of the development of new work, in dialogue with the creators themselves. This occurs through regular development workshops and related auxiliary events.

Commissioning and Developing New Mainstage Opera

COT invests time and talent in brand-new pieces, including commissions, at various stages of the creative process, both internally and through partnerships with other leading developers of new work.

Emerging Opera Composer Residency

Chicago Opera Theater’s Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer residency is a two-year development program that places an emphasis on building skills and connections for emerging opera composers in Chicago and the Midwest.

The program aims to bridge the gap between general compositional skills taught in university music programs and the real-world observation and experience that help inform an operatic composer’s work. Launched in 2018, the program identifies skilled composers who have not yet had sufficient opportunities for writing opera and provides them with a two-year comprehensive course of study.

What We’re Looking for

Composers in the program will have established and demonstrable skills in instrumental composition, vocal composition, and orchestration (whether “traditional” or non-traditional), and will have a strong interest in dramatic storytelling through music, but may or may not have experience with opera or theatrical production. Composers are required to live in or be willing to relocate to Chicago, IL.

How it Works

Each year, COT will invite one Emerging Composer to join the company for a two-year residency, to coincide with two COT production seasons. At any given time, there will be a total of two composers in residence – one in their first year and one in their second. All events, performances, rehearsals, and conferences attended will be followed by debrief/feedback sessions with the composers and COT leadership. Composers’ activities during their two-year participation in the program will be tailored to a given composer’s needs and re-evaluated regularly.

Activities will include:

  •  Regular observation of COT mainstage production, music, staging, orchestra, and technical rehearsals and access to all COT performances

  • Participation in individual sessions with key artists on each COT mainstage production, including access to composers and librettists in addition to directors, conductors, and singers.

  • Direct and ongoing individual guidance by COT’s Staley Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya, including monthly meetings to discuss and work through analysis of canonic operatic repertoire

  • Involvement in COT leadership artistic planning sessions, at which composers will observe the decision-making process, evaluation, and discussion of possible projects for the company’s future seasons.

  • In the second year, an opportunity to compose a full one act chamber opera (60-90 minutes, with Pierrot-sized or similar chamber ensemble) written with an experienced, working opera librettist and guided by a highly-qualified dramaturg. Composers will workshop the opera with COT’s Staley Music Director and Young Artists, as well as select guest artists where appropriate. COT will present 1-2 public performances of the opera to culminate the composer’s time with the program, and will distribute the piece to other opera producers as appropriate

  • Regular access to performances or dress rehearsals for other Chicago area opera companies and music organizations (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Haymarket Opera Company, and others)

  • Invitation to COT board meetings as appropriate.

  • Access to COT administrative staff for guidance regarding non-musical areas such as personal branding and marketing, working with publishers, networking within the field, etc.

  • Observation of work sessions with COT’s Staley Music Director, Roosevelt University faculty, and COT/Roosevelt Young Artists to participate with singers learning new material in a non- rehearsal environment.

  • Attendance at the OPERA America New Works Forum in January of each year, and/or the OPERA America Annual Conference in May/June of each year.

Application Requirements:

  • Cover letter explaining why the candidate feels passionately about dramatic storytelling and why they are interested in COT’s Vanguard Initiative program specifically

  • Detailed resume or CV, including any experience as a performer and any other experience related to opera

  • List of repertoire composed and performed, including performing ensembles

  • Sample scores, including examples of vocal writing and of instrumental writing for an ensemble of at least 7-10 players (some examples of writing for larger orchestral forces preferred, but not required). The inclusion of recordings or other materials as part of the application is accepted, but not required.

  • Contact information for 3-5 references

All materials should be emailed to by 11:59am December 1, 2021. If you have submitted materials in the past we encourage you to resend them with updated and current information. A stipend is provided to participating composers. The current stipend amount is $16,000 for the 9-month residency period, subject to funding renewal for future seasons.

Chicago Opera Theater is committed to enhancing diversity within our organization and the field of opera more broadly. Composers from underrepresented groups are highly encouraged to apply.