The Santa Fe Opera

Skip to main content Skip to search
sheet music or score for the conductor

Competing Interests: How Do You Workshop a New Opera?

Emily Doyle Moore | | 505-986-5908


Competing Interests: How Do You Workshop a New Opera?

Roadtrip! After many long months of necessary virtual collaboration, the creative team behind The Pigeon Keeper, a Santa Fe Opera Opera For All Voices (OFAV) commission, finally got to spread their wings for an emotional workshop in San Francisco. 

Key Change co-hosts Andrea Fellows Fineberg and Anna Garcia discover what it was like to have everyone (well, almost everyone) in the same room for the very first time – featuring composer David Hanlon, librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, stage director Mary Birnbaum, music director Kelly Kuo, dramaturg Cori Ellison, Ruth Nott, consultant for OFAV, plus Elinore (Ellie) Pett-Ridge Hennessy, Azaria Stauffer-Barney, and Ruby Recht-Appel, all members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC).

“Stephanie and I really love working and responding in the moment,” says David, excited to sit beside The Pigeon Keeper’s librettist in real life. 

For those unfamiliar with the process of developing new operatic works, workshops put the pieces and performers together for a rigorous, accelerated series of rehearsals, and what some may call a smash-through – the first time the piece is heard by the artists in person all the way through, without stopping (even if there are mistakes.) Then the piece is presented to an invited audience of folks who may be interested to produce or present the opera in the future.  “We’re always trying things out, which is really exciting. But,” David admits, “there’s a lot of flux to that.” 

Workshops are, by their nature, intense. Witnessing The Pigeon Keeper live, with its fairytale-like exploration of chosen family and mass migration, profoundly impacted participants of this workshop, especially members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC), whose voices add poignant commentary to the storytelling. “I’m not gonna lie to you. I read through the music, and I started tearing up,” recalls Ellie. “It just feels like home.”

And it feels one step closer to realizing The Pigeon Keeper as a fully staged production.


David Hanlon – Composer, The Pigeon Keeper

Stephanie Fleischmann – Librettist, The Pigeon Keeper

Mary Birnbaum – Stage Director

Kelly Kuo – Music Director

Cori Ellison – Dramaturg

Ruth Nott – Consultant, Opera for All Voices

Elinore (Ellie) Pett-Ridge Hennessy, Azaria Stauffer-Barney, and Ruby Recht-Appel – Members, San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) led by Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe

Related Episodes

KCP0204: Hope Is the Thing With Feathers: A first look at The Pigeon Keeper

KCP0404 – In a Room Making Music With People: The Pigeon Keeper with Stephanie Fleischmann and David Hanlon


David Hanlon – Composer, The Pigeon Keeper

“It’s really good for everybody just to see what happens when you just go through, and no matter what happens, you keep going, just the way that you’ll have to do in a performance.”

“Workshops are funny things in that they’re necessarily very, very intense because you’re trying to do a phenomenal amount of work in a very short period of time.”

Stephanie Fleischmann – Librettist, The Pigeon Keeper

“What we’re doing this week is finding the breath in this work and also one discovery that I made that it’s something I knew already, but that having the composer and the librettist in the room together is the most valuable gift.” 

Mary Birnbaum – Stage Director

“It’s not ever an easy thing to put a new work in front of a group of people for the first time. It always feels a little bit like your skin is on fire.”

Kelly Kuo – Music Director

“I think in a workshop situation, time is not always your friend. You have to balance any changes that are made with giving the performers a sense of security and poise and calm in order to perform at the presentation.”

“I think it’s important to remember that all music was new music at some point in time and that to support the production of new operas that are meaningful to today’s audiences is an unbelievable opportunity that they should not miss.”

Ruth Nott – Consultant, Opera for All Voices

“Co-producing with other companies has happened for a long time. What I’m seeing more and more of is presenting an opera, a production, an experience, in collaboration with other community organizations.”

Elinore (Ellie) Pett-Ridge Hennessy – Member, San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC)

“That’s why we do chorus, is to be able to actually feel the connections between the different parts of the music or the different people that you’re singing with. So, I really hope that that translates and that the audience can feel that.”

Azaria Stauffer-Barney – Member, San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC)

“There’s this moment when you sing in a chorus where you can kind of tell that it’s all coming together, and you get that feeling that’s just like, wow, this is really great. And so hearing that especially yesterday when we finally got to sing it all the way through was so amazing.” 

Ruby Recht-Appel – Member, San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC)

“I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to be a part of this project, and not many, I mean, I’m 17, not many 17-year-olds can say that they’ve been in a real opera project and, I think that’s just very cool. I’m excited to take that with me and see the other ways that I can use this to be a part of music.”