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Composer Phyto Stratis Participates in Opera Lab at His Alma Mater NYU/Tisch (Photos)

NEW YORK – Composer Phyto Stratis participated in a unique project at his alma mater, New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. An alumnus of the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program (GMTWP), Stratis composed a short opera for The American Opera Project (AOP), Brooklyn-based contemporary opera producer, and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Opera Lab for Spring 2024.

Each year in the Lab, emerging opera composers and librettists create brand new short operas centered on an historic New York City location. Over several months, the operas are developed with professional opera singers and then given full productions in the very locations that inspired the operas.

Left to right: Soprano Gileann Tan, bass-baritone Eliam Ramos, mezzo-soprano Yoojin Lee, and tenor John Bellemer. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The AOP-NYU/Tisch Opera Lab 2024 featured The Hudson Guild Operas with 12 short operas over four nights inspired and dedicated to the historic Hudson Guild Settlement community staged at New York University and the Hudson Guild Theatre. Hudson Guild is a multi-service community agency serving those who live, work, or go to school in the Chelsea neighborhood and the west side of Manhattan, with a focus on those in need.

NYU’s Shubert Theatre was the venue for the first two performances with Program A on May 23 featuring the first six of the 12 operas and Program B with the remaining six operas on May 24. The final two performances are set for Wednesday, May 29, with Program A, and Thursday, May 30, with Program B, 7:30 PM for both, at Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 West 26th Street in Manhattan.

More information and tickets available online: https://shorturl.at/Egr4N.

Phyto Stratis’ work was part of Program A on May 23. He noted what an extraordinary opportunity the Opera Lab offered to students and alumni of the GMTWP to explore composing for opera and collaborating with such gifted artists and designers.

NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program Chair/ Associate Arts Professor Robert Lee and alumni and composer Phyto Stratis. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The Opera Lab is a cross-departmental collaboration that has been led since its 2015 inception by faculty members Randall Eng (GMTWP) and Sam Helfrich (Department of Design for Stage and Film). GMTWP provides the librettists and composers, AOP provides the singers and music directors, the Department of Design provides the designers, and other Tisch Departments (Dance, Open Arts), other NYU constituents (Grey Art Gallery, Institute of Fine Arts), and other universities (New School for Social Research) often play key roles as well.

Eng and Helfrich gave the welcoming remarks on May 23 and explained about the Opera Lab process. Eng also noted the participation of Music Director Dmitriy Glivinskiy who accompanied all the evening’s operas on piano. Helfrich pointed out that “tonight is a giant collaborative effort” and gave a “shout-out” to department chairs Justin Townsend (Design) and Robert Lee (GMTWP).

The six operas performed on May 23 highlighted the impressive talents of all those involved. The attention to detail was clear in each piece as the artists drew on a wide range of themes related to the Hudson Guild to create dynamic and moving works that touched the audience with their inventiveness, wit, and heart. Each of the six operas on May 23 featured three singers from the masterful cast of four in a variety of roles. Soprano Gileann Tan, bass-baritone Eliam Ramos, mezzo-soprano Yoojin Lee, and tenor John Bellemer delighted the audience with their range and skill.

Phyto Stratis and Randall Eng. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The first of the six operas performed was ‘The Hands that Planted,’ music by Benjamin Walton, libretto by Zoe Ray Prawda, with Tan as Laurel, Lee as River, and Ramos as Aaron, music direction by Dmitriy Glivinskiy, and stage direction by Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li. It offered a compelling look at three members of a community who share what they think should be done with their beloved tree which is overrun with ivy.

Stratis’ enchanting music for ‘Untitled’ showcased his gift for composition even if this happened to be his first foray into opera. The piece, with libretto by another gifted artist, Yunhye Park, conveyed a depth of emotion and a timelessness along with layers of meaning in its neat, 15-minute form. The opera, with Tan as the Muse, Lee as Pauline, and Ramos as Bernard, music direction by Dmitriy Glivinskiy and stage direction by Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li, tells the story of Bernard, an old, retired sailor, who starts painting even though he has never believed that he could be a painter. The story unfolds in a charming manner as the lyrical quality of the music and the libretto transport the audience along on the artist’s journey.

Participants in the American Opera Project and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Opera Lab for Spring 2024, including librettist Yunhye Park and composer Phyto Statis, at right, take their bows following the program on May 23. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Audience members looked forward to seeing more from all the talented artists and designers who participated in the Opera Lab.

Up next for Stratis is a reading of his musical ‘Edgar Visited’, also to be held at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts GMTWP. At the prestigious International Edgar Allan Poe Festival and Awards last October, Stratis was honored with a special award, the Saturday ‘Visiter’ Award in the Adaptation Category, for his song ‘Alone’ from his musical inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.

More information about all the short operas in the Spring 2024 Opera Lab is available online: https://shorturl.at/IqPv3.

Mezzo-soprano Yoojin Lee and bass-baritone Eliam Ramos performing in Untitled, a brief opera composed by Phyto Stratis with libretto by Yunhye Park. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
Soprano Gileann Tan and bass-baritone Eliam Ramos performing in Untitled, a short opera composed by Phyto Stratis with libretto by Yunhye Park. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program Associate Arts Professor Randall Eng and Design for Stage and Film Associate Arts Professor Sam Helfrich gave the welcoming remarks on May 23. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

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