Photo Op

The Cast of Photo-Op. ClintonBPhotography


Composed by Conrad Cummings

Libretto by James Siena

“It’s wonderful fun, wonderfully directed and performed and, despite that fact that it was written in 1989, eerily timely.”

– Joan Reinthaler, The Washington Post Click here to read the full review!

Our production of Photo-Op was previewed in the Washington Post on September 7 –
“Audience members will frequently be reminded of real-life politicians, Wood says. ‘There are moments in the opera where you will perhaps remember Sarah Palin, you will perhaps remember the Clintons, you remember things that are coming from stories that we know, because these things happen,’ he says. ‘And they happen again and again.’ ” Read the whole article, and more Palin-esque quotes from Bob Wood here.

WAMU’s Art Beat also did a piece on us – click here to read it.

All of the obligatory campaign events are included: stump speeches, rope lines, debates, sound bites, and, of course, photo-ops – but James Siena’s text reduces them to the absurd, taking familiar “politician-speak” and turning it on its head. Photo-Op is by the same composer as UrbanArias’ hit Positions 1956 – Cummings’ minimalist-influenced score is hard-hitting but harmonious. Photo-Op received a three week Off-Broadway run in the 90’s, and is as relevant in this election season as it was then. UrbanArias’ new production, directed by Alan Paul of The Shakespeare Theatre, and choreographed by Lucy Bowen McCauley, is a DC-area premiere.

Photo Op clip – The Candidate on Ellen from Bowen McCauley Dance Company on Vimeo.

Images by Clinton B Photography



Politics is an exciting but tricky subject to address in opera. Verdi set the bar very high with Don Carlo and Simon Boccanegra, and John Adams’ Nixon in China took that tradition and brought it compellingly into the 20th century.

Photo-Op is an unapologetically modern foray into the political, which lampoons stump speeches and presidential campaign tropes while simultaneously delivering a satiric, if grim, verdict on the state of politics today.

Conceived as a concert piece for two dueling candidates and a small instrumental ensemble, Photo-Op has received a variety of treatments and interpretations over the last twenty years.

UrbanArias’ version is an intimate collaboration between director Alan Paul and choreographer Lucy Bowen McCauley, with frequent input from me. We designed a take on the opera which has a more explicit narrative than it has received in previous stagings; we felt that a combination of traditionally acted scenes and dance could be very powerful.

I chose to produce this piece at this particular moment because it has obvious connection to the current campaign season, and because the timing of our production has particular resonance with the recent Republican and Democratic conventions.

While you will see a few references tonight that seem ripped from last week’s headlines, please know that we have not altered a word of James Siena’s text or a note of Conrad Cummings’ music. What they wrote in 1989 is just as relevant today. In fact, the immediacy of this opera twenty years later is uncanny.

We discovered over the last few weeks that it’s true – sometimes life does imitate art.

—Robert Wood, General Director of UrbanArias


Laurie Williamson, soprano as Candidate/Running Mate/Spouse

Michael Mayes, baritone as Candidate/Running Mate/Spouse


Kathryn Connors
Kathleen Gordon
Dustin Kimball
Robert Mintz
Ryan Sellers
Randy Snight
Joseph Thanner
Katherine Turner
Matthew Ward

Conducted by Robert Wood
Directed by Alan Paul
Choreographed by Lucy Bowen McCauley
Lighting Design by Andrew Griffin
Costume Design by Rhonda Key