PROVIDENCE, R.I. Oct.12, 2020 — Pianist and composer Judith Lynn Stillman, won first prize in OperaVision’s #OperaHarmony contest, for her groundbreaking short opera, Essential Business, produced remotely while in COVID-19 lockdown.
The competition was a global initiative to join creatives from around the world to rethink opera in the pandemic era, highlighting themes of connection and community. OperaVision is the online platform for Opera Europa, representing major opera companies including La Scala and The Bolshoi.
Essential Business is a powerful commentary on spirituality and the need for connection during isolation. Set during the 2020 coronavirus quarantine, Essential Business tells the story of a young pastor, as he wrestles with his faith, family, and the loss of his ministry amid the pandemic. In a moment of crisis, he reaches out to God via a Zoom call, for a modern-day confessional.
Stillman composed and performed the score and served as filmmaker/producer. The music incorporates operatic, gospel, blues, and musical theatre influences, around the story themes of religion, race and culture, the social impact of the virus, and creating music in isolation.
“For me, Essential Business captures a microcosm of the societal lockdown dilemma,” said Stillman. “Humans crave connection. Being in isolation can be devastating. To what extent do we take risks to mitigate these challenges? Is there a way to reconcile both faith and science when there can be life and death consequences?”
Stillman teamed up with Metropolitan Opera baritone, Will Liverman, who performed the role of the pastor, and U.K. artists Anna Pool and Elayce Ismail, to write the libretto and produce the 10-minute piece.
Earlier this year, Liverman was the first Black artist to play the role of Papageno in The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera. He will be a lead in the premiere of the first opera by a Black composer to be produced at the Met in 2021.
The award continues a streak of accolades for Stillman, a Juilliard trained performer, composer, filmmaker, and Rhode Island College’s artist-in-residence, whose compositions – even during COVID quarantine – have received awards from Hollywood to Cannes.