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Inside the Creative Process

Inside the Creative Process explores the development of new opera from the ground up, connecting the community to groundbreaking new works.


Inside the Creative Process invites the Ithaca community to be immersed in the creative process as an entirely new opera is built from scratch. Building on Opera Ithaca’s established commitment to presenting the works of female composers on every season, Inside the Creative Process is currently focusing on the development of We Wear the Sea Like a Coat (Working Title) by Sally Lamb McCune and librettists Rachel Lampert and Yvonne Gray. The community is invited to provide feedback and will ultimately develop a keener understanding of the complicated collaboration between composer, librettist, and producer. Inside the Creative Process will build community interest in the project and point Opera Ithaca and its collaborative partners towards a full production of the opera in development once it is complete.

Opera Ithaca will kick off its season on October 4, 2020 at the Treman Center in Ithaca, New York, with the most comprehensive workshop to date of Inside the Creative Process. Building on successful workshops in the 2019-2020 season, which included a libretto reading, musical excerpts from select scenes, and a masterclass with the Opera Ithaca Apprentice Artists, the October workshop will feature the first overview of the entire composition. The audience will get to observe the evolution of the text and music, and will be able to give immediate feedback in an interactive session with the creative team following the performance. Most of the workshop will be orchestrated and Opera Ithaca will present various scenic concepts through the use of projections.

This workshop will happen in conjunction with the Young Artist residency in Opera Ithaca’s newly expanded Apprentice Artist Program. These extraordinary emerging singers will be converging on Ithaca from across the United States, forming the primary casting for the October workshop. In addition to providing a transformative opportunity to inhabit new music, this workshop will serve as a professional showcase for the apprentices. Industry leaders will be invited from across the region and the visibility of the Apprentice Artist Program will put a spotlight on the new work in creation.

Opera Ithaca has a robust commitment to presenting new music. Since its founding in 2014, the company has offered productions of Il Sogno, by Kristin Hevner, Thumbprint, by Kamala Sankaram and Susan Yankowitz, Bully Pulpit, by Kristin Hevner and Royce Vavrek, Songs from the Uproar, by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek, and the world premieres of Billy Blythe, by Bonnie Montgomery and The Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace, by Kamala Sankaram. Inside the Creative Process carries this legacy forward, offering a platform for the development of new opera and the opportunity to build a project with feedback from the community. In addition to offering the performance outlet to the creative team and the performers, this project is building a deeper interest in new music in Ithaca and the surrounding area.

Project Media

Overture from Skara
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This selection is the atmospheric overture of Skara, which was the original working title for We Wear the Sea Like a Coat. The evocative orchestration and driving rhythmic figures are meant to capture the dramatic Orkney coastline, which is the setting of the opera. Yvonne Gray’s poetic text foreshadows the opera’s collision between nature and humanity, while questioning what we make of strangers in our midst. McCune’s score plays with the calls of native birds, who factor into the drama as a Greek chorus.

Bay of Eagles, from Skara
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Bay of Eagles continues to play with themes of nature, particularly the calls of the terns. Throughout the series, Inside the Creative Process, many facets of the piece have evolved. In this excerpt, the character of Shala, an Orcadian woman, has morphed into Sarah, an American woman who is living in Orkney for a year for a work assignment. The added layer of tension inherent in the story of being a stranger in a new country mirrors the turbulent forces of nature and is underscored by McCune’s swirling, driving music.

Score with selected scenes from We Wear the Sea Like a Coat

This overview shows a range of the work in progress for the current focus project of Inside the Creative Process, We Wear the Sea Like a Coat. The first three scenes are expository and introduce the audience to the American couple at the center of the action. The opening plays with the haunting call of the Arctic tern and the following sequence shows an evolution of McCune’s music from where it began with “Bay of Eagles.” McCune uses folk-inspired tunes to musically personify Orkney, set to Rachel Lampert’s lively pub dialogue.

Start and End Dates



Ithaca, New York

Project Created By

Ithaca, New York

In Collaboration With

Ithaca, New York
Orkney, Scotland, UNITED KINGDOM


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