Founded by General Director Robert Wood in 2010, UrbanArias has produced over 30 operas, including 13 world premieres, nine of which were UrbanArias commissions. In 2021, Shawn Okpebholo’s Unknown, a song cycle commemorating the centenary of the founding of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, received national attention when the accompanying film was featured on PBS Newshour. Two years earlier, UrbanArias’ first commercial recording, Gregory Spears’ Paul’s Case, was selected by Opera News as one of the best albums of the year.
Since the company’s inception, UrbanArias has demonstrated a commitment to the highest quality of musical and theatrical performances. Recognized by The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other leading media outlets as the premiere purveyor of contemporary chamber opera in the DC region, UrbanArias is seen as a company with national significance to the opera industry. UrbanArias has produced works by established and upcoming composers including Jake Heggie, Gregory Spears, Shawn Okpebholo, Laura Kaminsky, Tom Cipullo, Peter Hilliard, Susan Kander, Marc Migó, Lori Laitman, Michael Nyman, and Jeffrey Smith, among many others.
UrbanArias’ debut performance was Lucy, a 15-minute opera by Tom Cipullo presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The company then produced repertory festival seasons in 2011 and 2012 before settling into a format of two or three stand-alone productions in a regular season. Throughout the year, UrbanArias holds “Opera Improv” evenings at DC-area comedy clubs and cafes, produces digital content to complement and enhance mainstage productions, and works to build deeper connections with community partners through interview and discussion panels and artistic and social collaborations.
World premiere productions include Paul’s Case in 2013; Tom Cipullo’s Josephine in 2016; Peter Hilliard and Matt Boresi’s Blue Viola in 2015 and The Last American Hammer in 2018; Sidney Boquiren’s Florida and Daniel Neer’s Independence Eve in 2017; Jeffrey Smith and David Johnston’s Why Is Eartha Kitt Trying to Kill Me?: A Love Story in 2018; 70% of UrbanArias’ world premieres have gone on to have second (or third) productions with professional companies, something that is not always a guarantee for new work. This track record speaks to UrbanArias’ dedication to discovering and supporting excellent composers and helping bring their works to the stage.
Other notable productions include the third professional production of Laura Kaminsky, Mark Cambell, and Kimberly Reed’s As One in 2015, the second professional production of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied in 2011, and a new adaptation of Elvis Costello’s The Juliet Letters in 2019.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, UrbanArias continued to produce new operas created for film. As part of the national Decameron Opera Coalition in 2020, UrbanArias commissioned and produced its first opera-in-film, The Roost, by John de los Santos and Marc Migó. 2021 brought two films: Susan Kander and Roberta Gumbel’s dwb (driving while black) and Shawn Okpebholo and Marcus Amaker’s Unknown.
UrbanArias debuted at the Keegan Theatre in Northwest DC in January 2020, and the company looks forward to returning there for performances of Stephen Eddins’ Why I Live at the P.O. in April 2022.
In keeping with Robert Wood’s original mission to break down the perceived barriers that keep people from engaging with opera, all UrbanArias performances are structured to appeal to both avid opera fans and first-time opera goers by:
- … commissioning and presenting works in English, reinforcing opera’s relevance as a theatrical and musical art form for today’s audiences;
- … performing works by composers from a wide range of musical styles whose music is accessible to a broad audience;
- … featuring preeminent national directors, designers and singers like Karen Slack, Emily Pulley, Sidney Outlaw, Michael Mayes, Kristine McIntyre, Keith Phares, Timothy Mix, Caroline Worra, Dennis Darling, and Briana Elyse Hunter, and world-class regional favorites like Ian McEuen and Melissa Wimbish.
- … presenting works in a range of Arlington, VA and Washington, DC, venues to increase opportunities for audience engagement and to connect with a broader range of community partners.
UrbanArias’ fresh approach to opera and commitment to excellence contributes to the DC area’s artistic growth and cultural diversity and focuses national attention on opera as an important, timely, and current art form.
Take a listen to company founder Robert Wood and board president Susan Derry talk about UrbanArias in an interview on the National Endowment for the Arts’ podcast: