The scoop on our Spring commission: Why I Live at the PO

UrbanArias is excited to premiere our ninth (!) commissioned opera this Spring! Running April 30 through May 8 at the Keegan Theatre, WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O. takes the comic masterpiece by beloved author Eudora Welty and combines it with classic and contemporary American musical styles to tell the story of a supremely relatable family.
by UrbanArias Founder and Artistic Director, Robert Wood:
WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O. is a classic American short story by a famous author, and even many years later, it captures so much of human nature: our pride and vanity, our difficulty in moving on from the past, and the unbelievable ability of your family to drive you crazy the way nothing else can. In the last several years, I’ve been drawn more and more to crossover and fusion work: operas that sing to us in a variety of musical styles. Why? Because I believe that opera, or any music theater, is at its most successful when it reflects the language of the people hearing it. Literally, in the sense that opera in your own language is easier to understand, but also musically – most Americans aren’t familiar with the evolution of classical music in the 20th century, but most Americans ARE familiar with musicals and with big band, which form a large part of P.O.’s musical style. I’m always looking for operas that are about US – our society, our shared experiences, our culture, and P.O. fits all of that to a T. 
I was at Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers festival of new opera a few years ago, and P.O. was one of their selections. I heard the first 20 minutes of it, which was all that had been written to that point, and found it very charming and funny. It’s been on my mind to produce at some point for several years now, and I don’t know about anyone else, but what I’d really like to do after two years of this wretched pandemic is laugh. Just laugh, with other people, in a theater.
We were able to do that in a workshop presentation of P.O. in September, and boy, did it feel great!
So not only was this the year that we had the means to commission the completion of this opera and a great venue to produce it in, it was also the year where everyone needed a break more than ever – and where the idiosyncrasies of family relationships felt extremely fresh to many of us. So WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O. feels very of the moment in 2022. 
Tickets for WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O. will go on sale in late February!

Holiday Recipes from Our Team!

For Christmas 2021, our team is looking forward to celebrating a successful but rather unusual year with some traditional holiday recipes! Check out some of our favorites below:

Thumbprint Cookies
from Executive Director Anne-Carolyn Bird

We store all of our Christmas ornaments in holiday tins, so after the tree is decorated they are empty – and ready to be filled with cookies! Every year I make at least four kinds: decorated gingerbread and/or sugar cookies, peanut butter blossoms, thumbprint cookies, and classic chocolate chip. My family’s favorite is the thumbprint cookie, topped with raspberry or peach jam – or Nutella!


  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups pecans, finely chopped
  • Your choice of jam (or Nutella!)


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a bowl, beat together brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and egg yolk. Stir in flour and salt.
  3. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place egg whites and pecans in two separate bowls. Dip each ball in egg whites and then roll in pecans. Place about 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press thumb or into center of each cookie. Make sure to not press too far down.
  4. Bake 13 minutes. Immediately remove cookies from cookie sheet to a wire rack. Let cool 30 minutes. Store unfilled, and top each cookie with jam just before eating.
Chocolate Crinkles
from Founder and Artistic Director Robert Wood
Here’s a tried and true recipe that I got from my mother, who got it from our local nature center’s newsletter (my mother typed all of her recipes on large index cards and always noted the source. Later, she transferred a number of them to an “electronic cookbook”, which she emailed me about ten years ago).
Many, many families have a version of this recipe, but this is the one I grew up with, and that I love. I remember the first time I made it by myself as a kid, I put in baking soda instead of baking powder. Oops! You can tell the vintage of the recipe by the use of vegetable oil, and the assumption that baking chocolate was only sold in 1-ounce squares.
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 squares (4 oz.) unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla (the vanilla you get now can be really strong, so I use scant teaspoons for this)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • powdered sugar to roll the dough in – I’ve never measured it, but it’s probably close to a cup
Mix oil, chocolate, and sugar. Blend eggs in one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the dough. Chill overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Drop teaspoons of dough into powdered sugar and cover all over by rolling. Place 2″ apart and bake 9.5 – 10 minutes; do not overbake (they will be moist).
Christmas time is exciting for me because that means fruit mince pies are abundant. I am a big fan of Jamie Oliver, I tried this recipe of his version of a mince pie with filo and puff-pastry (normally with sweet-short pastry) a few years back when I was with my family back in Oz, and it was a hit.
Fruit Mince Pies
from Artistic Administrator Paul Peers
  • 100 g good-quality mincemeat (That’s fruit mince, not meat, should be able to buy a jar of it at Wholefoods or Trader Joes)
  • 25 g dried cranberries or blueberries , chopped
  • 2 clementines , zest of
  • 1 splash sherry or brandy
  • flour , to dust
  • 250 g puff pastry
  • 1 pack filo pastry
  • 50 g butter , melted
  • 1 free-range egg , beaten
  • 50 g flaked almonds
  • icing sugar , to dust
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400ºF/gas 6. Scoop the mincemeat into a mixing bowl and mix in the dried berries, the clementine zest and the sherry or brandy.
 2. Dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the puff pastry into a big rectangle about 20cm x 40cm and the thickness of a pound coin (1/8th inch). Thinly spread the mincemeat over the pastry, leaving a 1/2″ gap around the edges. Tightly roll up the pastry, lengthways, like a Swiss roll, place it on a floured tray, and pop in the fridge to firm up.
3. Take two cupcake trays (for 12 cupcakes each) and butter each one lightly with the melted butter. Place one layer of filo pastry over the tray (you may need more than one sheet to cover each tray depending on the size of the sheets) and ease the pastry into each hole. Brush with the melted butter, then cover with a second layer of filo pastry. Brush with butter again.
4. Take the puff pastry roll out of the fridge and, with a sharp knife, cut it into 24 slices. Place each slice, flat-side down, into a filo-lined hole. Brush with the egg and sprinkle a few flaked almonds on top of each little pie, then pop both trays in the oven for about 25 minutes, until cooked and golden brown.
5. Leave to cool, then crack the individual pies out of the trays. Dust with a little icing sugar before serving.
Cardamom Bread
from Communications Director Alysa Turner
A sweet and sugary Christmas morning tradition – perfect for enjoying with coffee while opening presents by the tree!


  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 4 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for the work surface
  • 1 pkg dry active yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup canola oil, plus more oil for the bowl
  • 2 large eggs, separated into one full egg and extra yolk for the dough and extra white for the wash
  • 3/4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1.5 tsp cardamomPreparation

    Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat just until it’s between warm and hot, it should be feel hot but you should be able to keep your finger in it comfortably.
    Put the yeast in a large bowl and stir the milk into it. Add a little bit of honey and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
    In a separate bowl, combine the remaining milk and honey, the oil, and one full egg and egg yolk. Stir together. Add the salt and stir again, then add to the yeast mixture. Gradually stir the flour into the liquid ingredients, about 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough becomes sticky and difficult to stir, dump onto a floured surface and knead it by hand, adding a little more flour if necessary to keep it from sticking, until smooth and elastic.
    Meanwhile, bring a small sauce pan of water to a boil on the stovetop.
    Knead the dough into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl.
    Cover with a kitchen cloth and put in the oven (turned off) on the middle rack with the pot of now boiling water on the bottom rack (or next to it). Close the oven door and let stand until doubled in size, 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
    Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently punch the dough down and turn it onto a floured surface. Divide the dough and braid. I usually do a six braid which I learned from YouTube tutorials. Cover with a cloth and let stand until nearly double in size, another 25 minutes or so. You can also let it rise in the oven with hot water again but make sure to remove it before pre-heating.
    Preheat the oven to 350°F.
    Lightly beat the remaining egg and white and brush it over the top of the challah loaf. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake the loaves until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes, turning once halfway through and fine-tuning for your oven.

Three Questions with Scenic Designer Mollie Singer

We’re proud to have worked with local artists and local locations for UNKNOWN. Scenic designer Mollie Singer masterfully handled the set and props, taking this film around D.C. and Virginia – and across the world, all while staying local!
We recently asked Mollie some questions about her work on UNKNOWN:
1. What was the hardest thing (or location) to find?
The hardest thing to find ended up being the newspapers.  Finding the right papers, in good condition, with the right headlines was tricky.
2. What resources do you lean on for a project like this?
Resources for this kind of project include eBay and other Collector sights, Prop artisans, and local Theatres prop storage.  I was able to borrow some items for the filming, which is always extremely helpful.
3. What is your favorite moment in the film?
My favorite moment of the film is watching the performers inhabit the different war memorials.  It is very powerful to be standing amongst the memorials but watching the performers interact as they’ve taken on their roles gave even more meaning to the experience.

Exciting New Opera to see this Fall

Despite an uncertain Fall ahead – there is no shortage of great contemporary opera premiering around the country!

Check out some that caught our eye:

Hosted at a Studio Friction in Denver, a studio specializing in aerial arts, Nathan Hall is directing a contemporary opera called “Unbound”, a multimedia, musical kink show about a gay man’s exploration of sexual desire and search for sexual fantasy.

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA will produce the West Coast premiere of “Sun & Sea,” which addresses climate change in “what could best be described as an operatic lament about the disintegration of our planet.” The creative team of director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, librettist Vaiva Grainytė, and composer Lina Lapelytė are all Lithuanian women.

Opera in the Rock in is opening its 2021-22 season with Derrick Wang’s one-act contemporary opera “Scalia/Ginsburg,” which of course highlights one of the most peculiar friendships in modern politics.

And right here at home, we’re premiering our latest commission: Shawn Okpebholo and Marcus Amaker’s Unknown honors the centenary of the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The World Premiere is Tuesday, October 5 at The Barns at Wolf Trap – and stay tuned for a film production in November!

No doubt about it: opera is a hot ticket and we are here for it. What else is on your radar this fall?


Operas you can watch on YouTube!

Beat the late Summer heat with Opera Night at home!

Here are some full-length operas you can stream right now for free on YouTube:

Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti’s 2021 concert production of “Don Carlo” was presented in honor of Italian Soprano Mirella Freni and her husband, Bass Nicolai Ghiaurov.

This production of Rossini’s “Semiramide” from Venice’s La Fenice Opera House – the very same Opera House in which the work premiered 1823!

This traditional Aida from San Francisco Opera stars two of the greatest opera names of the 20th century. Sam Wanamaker’s 1981 production with Luciano Pavarotti as Radames and Margaret Price as Aida is available to watch right on YouTube!

Puccini’s comedic one-act masterpiece Gianni Schicchi tells the story of a man who successfully impersonates another with surprising results. This production from 2017 premiered at the Butte Music Festival.

Art is Political


dwb (driving while black)

“Driving while black”

One is the title of the opera by Susan Kander and Roberta Gumbel that we are presenting at the end of the month. The other is a phrase Black Americans have used for years to encapsulate the injustice, fear, and danger they encounter on a regular basis while simply going about their lives.

Susan and Roberta wrote the piece in 2015, inspired by their conversations surrounding their own sons’ coming of driving age and by the general awareness of Black parents of what it means to put their child behind the wheel of a car. They were making an artistic and political statement by writing the opera on this subject.

UrbanArias Founder and Artistic Director Bob Wood programmed dwb into the 2020-2021 season because it is an excellent work which tells a story of today’s America (and, of course, it is short and new). He was making an artistic and political statement by including the work in our season.

George Floyd's face projected onto Confederate monument

Soprano Karen Slack and filmmakers Du’Bois and Camry A’Keen were making artistic and political statements by signing on to star in and create a film version of the opera.

All these subtle political statements happened before Black Lives Matter exploded in mid-2020, becoming a global movement fueled by the collective outrage surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. Artists and companies around the country and around the world came forward with written statements speaking out against the unjust fears our Black and Brown colleagues and friends face daily.

And now, just this week, we have seen two more horrific examples of this fear, the fear of Driving While Black, come to life. Army 2nd Lieutenant Caron Nazario, pepper-sprayed after being pulled over in his new car, and Daunte Wright, killed when a police officer used her gun instead of her taser.

As the director of a company presenting an opera entitled dwb (driving while black) in this moment, I am keenly aware of the line we are walking between art and politics. Toni Morrison once said “All good art is political! There is none that isn’t. And the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status quo.’”

As we present this beautiful film, we are saying loudly and clearly that we do not love the status quo. We do not love seeing yet another “beautiful brown boy,” as The Mother in dwb calls her son, killed in an act of senseless violence. We do not love a system which routinely thwarts justice by allowing perpetrators to go largely unpunished while the lives of innocent people are destroyed.

Art is political, one way or another. We are choosing to be political on the side of change.


Anne-Carolyn Bird
Executive Director