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Chunky in Heat

Six composers collaborate on a new opera that tells a shared family history through different musical and storytelling perspectives.

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Chunky in Heat Premiere was a Glowing Success

Posted on August 7, 2019 by Experiments in Opera

The culminating event of the EiO 2018-2019 season was the premiere performance of the opera Chunky in Heat, a 70-minute opera with a libretto by celebrated author A.M. Homes and music by six different composers: Jason Cady, Paula Matthusen, Erin Rogers, Aaron Siegel, Shelley Washington and Matthew Welch.  This premiere highlighted Experiments in Opera’s artistic vision of bringing together a community of artists to create work collaboratively.  Chunky in Heat played to three full houses in the Sam Theater at The Flea on Friday, May 31, 2019 at 7 PM, Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 7 PM, and on Sunday, June 2, 2019 at 3 PM.  The Sunday, June 2 performance was preceded by an artist talk between librettist A.M. Homes and designer/performer/author Isaac Mizrahi.  Over the course of the three-show run, 305 audience members attended this premiere production. 

Chunky in Heat tells the story of a girl who comes of age poolside at her family’s home in the canyons of Los Angeles. The magical thinking of youth comes undone after her brother dies and she realizes what the word “dream” in American Dream really means.  Experiments in Opera worked with librettist A.M. Homes and director Alison Moritz to shape the libretto so that it could be split up and given to each of the six composers.  Each composer worked on at least 2 of the 14 sections of the opera and the pieces were sewn together during the final rehearsal process leading up to the premiere.  Chunky in Heat was a partnership with the chamber orchestra Contemporaneous.

The full list of performers who participated in this project is as follows: Sarah Daniels (Chunky), Timothy Stoddard (Walter / Fiancee / Beekeeper), Emily Geller (Mother), Joshua Jeremiah (Father), Rachel Doehring (Abigail / Shapeshifter), Daniel Kochersberger (saxophone), Evan Honse (trumpet), Amy Garapic (percussion), Matt Evans (percussion), Paul Kerekes (piano), Colin Davin (guitar), Sabrina Tabby (violin), Anna Heflin (viola), Helen Newby (cello), Dara Bloom (bass), Alison Moritz (Director), David Bloom (Music Director), Kate Noll (Stage Designer), Solomon Weisbard (Lighting Designer), Taylor Jensen (Associate Lighting Designer), Elivia Bovenzi (Costume Designer), Nathaniel Butler (Sound Designer), Savannah Kurtz (Stage Manager), Allison Gish (Supertitles).

Critical reviews of Chunky in Heat were glowing, with the New York Observer noting that it was “[One of the] the strongest modern opera I’ve heard. Everything about this production is so uniformly superb it’s hard to single out an individual for praise.”  In addition, Seen and Heard noted, “The creators of this amazing little opera—so zany, so crazy, so touching—couldn’t have hoped for better.”  Chunky in Heat received a preview in The New Yorker, as well as other reviews in the Arts Journal and San Francisco Classical Voice.  A video of the complete performance of the premiere will be available at experimentsinopera.com starting in September 2019. 


Experiments in Opera, in collaboration with Contemporaneous, presents the premiere of the newly-commissioned opera, Chunky in Heat, at the Flea Theater in New York City from May 31 – June 2, 2019.  Celebrated author A.M. Homes wrote the libretto for Chunky in Heat based on her own short stories about a teenage girl who struggles to break free from her oppressive family in contemporary Los Angeles.  Experiments in Opera has commissioned six stylistically-diverse composers to contribute music: Jason Cady, Paula Matthusen, Erin Rogers, Aaron Siegel, Shelley Washington, and Matthew Welch.   Each composer will write a 15-minute section of music that will be ‘sewn’ together with other sections into a full 100-minute opera, which will be fully-staged under the direction of Alison Moritz.

Multi-composer projects provide an opportunity for artists to work within a community, and learn about their own work and that of others in more meaningful ways. Splitting up the composing responsibilities allows us to produce the work of a range of composers more quickly and include artistic voices that might not otherwise make it to the opera stage. Additionally, Chunky in Heat features a character of the Talking Tree, an Alexa-like artificial intelligence technology that records the goings on of the featured family in their home.  We learn throughout the opera that each family member has a different perspective on their collective history. We split up the libretto so that each composer’s musical voice represents a different character’s perspective in the story.  Heard together, they create an aural collage that mimics the fractured reality of shared history.

We selected the composers for this project based on their experiences writing for voice and their different stylistic approaches to connecting sound and narrative.  Composer/Performer Erin Rogers brings a large body of work as a performer of new music and a creator of potent theater experiences; Composer/Performer Shelley Washington brings her exciting voice as a saxophonist and truth-teller of powerful narratives; and composer Paula Matthusen brings her sonic experiments with electronic and fixed media.  EiO co-founders Jason Cady, Matthew Welch, and Aaron Siegel complete the roster of composers, bringing their eight years of experience facilitating collaborations among a diverse set of artists. Support from New Music USA will go directly towards the commission fees for these six composers.

Chunky in Heat is a collaboration with Contemporaneous, who will be the orchestra for the premiere production.  Together, we selected the commissioned composers, the instrumentation of the orchestra, and the singers.  Chunky in Heat will be the final show in Experiments in Opera’s 2018-2019 season residency at the Flea Theater.  Our fall 2018 show, Modularias, was a sold-out run of micro-operas for voice and modular synthesizer.  For all of our shows at The Flea, we rely on our robust marketing and publicity efforts, including a 3,500+ email list, paid social media ads, and a strong relationship with an outside publicist that has led to regular previews and reviews in New York area and global print and online publications.

Project Media

The Farthest – Shelley Washington
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Features: Shelley Washington

This video, featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus performing Shelley Washington’s “The Farthest”, exemplifies the way in which Shelly’s work uses strong rhythmic language to accentuate text and narrative. It is also a great example of how Shelley is attuned to telling stories that resonate with young voices and perspective. ‘Chunky in Heat’ is a youth-focused story, and Shelley’s sensitivity to these issues has already proven very helpful.

Travelogue – Erin Rogers
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Features: Erin Rogers

This video features a recent composition by Erin Rogers for violin and viola during the performance of which both musicians speak. In addition to displaying a wide palate of sounds and extended techniques, this video illustrates Erin’s keen ideas about how to stage a performance to maximize dramatic impact through the position of performers and their spatial relationships to one another.

So Much of Any Year is Flammable
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Features: Paula Matthusen

This video features Paula’s unique interest in the physical qualities of performance, as well as the intersections between electronically produced sounds and acoustic material. Given the core dialogue in Chunky in Heat around the place of technology in our lives, Paula’s music has been extremely helpful in surfacing these issues.

Start and End Dates



New York, New York

1 update
Last update on August 7, 2019

Project Created By

Brooklyn, New York
Our Vision Experiments in Opera is focused on re-writing the story of opera.  We are excited that new operas can be adventurous and fun, focused on strong and intimate storytelling, while also challenging notions of what experimental music can be.  EiO invites composers, directors, designers and performers to create new work that embraces unconventional mediums,…

In Collaboration With

Princeton, New Jersey
New York, New York
Producing Partner and Orchestra
New York, New York
San Francisco, California
Queens, New York


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