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2021-23 Competition Cycle

Congratulations to Tawnie Olson, composer, and Roberta Barker, librettist, whose work, Sanctuary and Storm, was selected as the winner of the Dominick Argento Chamber Opera Competition from the finalists at the 2022 National Conference in St. Augustine.  This work will be produced in its entirety by the University of Houston at the January 2023 National Conference in Houston.

2022_Sanctuary
Scene performed at the competition finals by students from the Schwob School of Music Opera Theatre, Columbus State University, in January 2022 in St. Augustine, FL

The three finalist works were:

  • The Parting: music by Tom Cipullo, libretto by David Mason
  • Hajar: music by Elisabeth Mehl Greene, libretto by composer
  • Sanctuary and Storm: music by Tawnie Olson, libretto by Roberta Barker

Selections from these three works were presented at the National Conference in St. Augustine in January 2022, with one winning work selected for a full presentation at the following conference in January 2023.


About Sanctuary and Storm

Synopsis

Prologue: The Angel
An Angel stands in the audience, watching a collage of images of human history. He sings the words of Walter Benjamin: “This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees a single catastrophe...” Two women emerge from this pageant of the dead: Eleanor, Queen of the English, and Hildegard, Abbess of Rupertsburg, once the two most powerful women in Europe.

Scene 1: A Wall Battered by a Storm
Through the Angel’s eyes, we are returned to the 1160s. Eleanor visits Hildegard in Rupertsburg, seeking her advice about the crisis in her marriage to Henry II. Hildegard responds with words from her surviving letter to Eleanor, advising her to seek peace.

Scene 2: Tribulations
Eleanor struggles with this advice. Is it so wrong to be ambitious, to revel in human life and change? God sees the folly of human striving, Hildegard replies. Eleanor taunts Hildegard with the joys of sex and children, Hildegard cries out that nothing compares to spiritual bliss.

Scene 3: Vision
As the women reach the height of their argument, the Angel appears and sings to both. They are terrified, enraptured. Each one sings what she hears/sees/feels. The Angel kisses each woman on the lips, and goes.

Scene 4: Flee This and Attain Stability
In the space left by the Angel, the two women confess the emptiness they have always felt when passion departs. They acknowledge that their fierce desire for something better transcends the differences that divide them.

Epilogue: The Storm
The Angel reappears in the audience. He begins to watch history again, flickering over the faces of Eleanor and Hildegard. The three sing together of human longing and the possibility of transcendence.

Characters

Angelus Novus, A Messenger (baritone)
Hildegard, Abbess of Rupertsburg bei Bingen (mezzo-soprano)
Eleanor (Aliénor), Duchess of Aquitaine and Queen of the Normans (soprano)