Aria Institute: Mezzo Edition

Quarantine and social distancing might suppress public performances, but they cannot extinguish the creative spirit. William Shakespeare famously wrote some of his greatest plays immediately after and during outbreaks of plague. Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel wrote a cholera cantata. Today’s opera world needs vibrant new repertoire too much to let a global pandemic stop (appropriately distanced) creation.

During September 2020, Really Spicy Opera will offer its Aria Institute for Composers and Librettists online and free of charge to a select group of participants. This offering of the Aria Institute has been specifically tailored to accommodate the scheduling constraints common to working and quarantined parents.

About the Aria Institute

Each offering of the Aria Institute channels a selected group of composers and librettists through a practical training program focused on writing a specific subset of opera composition (e.g., arias, duets, and scenes). The September 2020 offering will focus on writing arias for the mezzo-soprano voice.

The Aria Institute provides opportunities for librettists (or aspiring librettists) and composers to work with professional performers in a workshop environment to explore writing opera.

Each Friday, accepted librettists and composers will receive instruction and other guidance in writing and refining opera arias. Participants rotate through different team pairings, with a new team writing assignment due the following Sunday. Each draft aria composition will be reviewed by and receive private feedback from our panel of directors, after which there will be an interval for revisions. On the following Friday, the revised pieces will be sightread by our performers, feedback and further guidance follows, and the process repeats. At the end of the main workshop, participants will vote on which pieces will be showcased in a livestreamed online recital.

A decorative image of musical notes flying out of an up-do of hair.


The September 2020 Aria Institute will be led by:

  • Tess Altiveros (faculty at Seattle University)
  • Basil Considine (Artistic Director of Really Spicy Opera)
  • Anne Wieben (Creative Director of Opera on the Lake)

Artists in Residence:

  • Mezzo-soprano Ann Cravero (Associate Professor of Voice at Drake University)
  • Composer and collaborative pianist Jodi Goble (Senior Lecturer in Voice at Iowa State University)
  • Composer Anthony Green (Castle of Our Skins)


There is no specific age requirement for the Aria Institute. However, participants must:

  1. Be current residents of the United States.
  2. Have prior experience writing and notating vocal music (composers) or poetry and/or drama (librettists).
  3. Commit to the full Aria Institute schedule (see below).
  4. Be willing to try something new.
  5. Be open to giving and receiving constructive feedback throughout the 4-week journey.

Prior experience writing opera is not required, only an interest in learning and a ready foundation.

In keeping with the mission of Really Spicy Opera, women are strongly encouraged to apply. Four slots are specifically reserved for female/female-identified participants.

Schedule and Access

All times in Central Time.

All participants must have access to a high-speed Internet connection and a desktop or laptop computer (not a smart phone or tablet) with a webcam that can run Zoom. A headset with a microphone is strongly recommended.

Composers must have also convenient access to music notation software that can produce a piano-vocal score in PDF format.

The schedule for the September offering of the Aria Institute has now been finalized:

  • Friday, 9/11
    • All: 2-5 PM 
  • Saturday, 9/12
    • Writing Day
  • Sunday, 9/13
    • Writing & Feedback Day
    • 2-5 PM: Feedback Sessions*

Monday, 9/14-Thursday, 9/17: Off/Revisions

  • Friday, 9/18
    • All: 2-5 PM 
  • Saturday, 9/19
    • Writing Day
  • Sunday, 9/20
    • Writing & Feedback Day
    • 2-5 PM: Feedback Sessions*

Monday, 9/21-Thursday, 9/24: Off/Revisions

  • Friday, 9/25
    • All: 2-5 PM 
  • Saturday, 9/26
    • Writing Day
  • Sunday, 9/27
    • Writing & Feedback Day
    • 2-5 PM: Feedback Sessions*

Monday, 9/28-Thursday, 10/1: Off/Revisions

  • Friday, 10/2
    • All: 2-5 PM 
  • Saturday, 10/3
    • Writing Day
  • Sunday, 10/4
    • Writing & Feedback Day
    • 2-5 PM: Feedback Sessions*
  •  Tuesday, 10/6
    • All: 12-3 PM
  • Thursday, 10/8

* – Each team will be scheduled for a specific time window within this time. However, since participant’s team will change weekly, we ask that you not schedule other activities during this time.

Application Instructions

Note: The application requires a free Google email account to fill out. 

Apply now! For priority consideration, please apply by Sunday, 8/16.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there an age limit to participate in the Aria Institute?


Are there are any costs or fees associated with attending the Aria Institute?

Not in September 2020.

Can I apply as a composer-librettist?

No. To participate in the Aria Institute, you must pick one of these roles to practice for the duration. What you do afterwards is up to you, but our particular process includes collaborating with another writer to see what interesting and exciting fusion is created.

Why did you select mezzos arias for the September offering?

Women make up the vast majority of collegiate voice program graduates in the United States. For many reasons, however, mezzos often get the short stick in terms of repertoire and roles, and get stereotyped onstage as witches, older women, and young men. It’s time to shake it up.

I’m a tenor and I think this emphasis on women’s voices is unfair.

Oh, suck it up and enjoy all the rep that you already have. Sometimes it’s better to nod and be silent.

Are there any conditions?

Yes – Really Spicy Opera asks for a non-exclusive, limited license to perform, record, and broadcast works created directly through the Aria Institute for online education purposes, showcases, and performances for which RSO derives no ticketed revenue.

As a writer-participant, you are fully free to develop works further (owing RSO no royalties), including expanding an initial proposal or musical excerpt into a larger work.

I’m not available for all of the dates and times – can I skip some?

No. Signing up for the Aria Institute is an all-inclusive deal: we fully commit to you, and you fully commit to us for the designated days and times. If the September offering doesn’t work with your schedule, the best thing to do is to apply for the July offering or a later round of the Aria Institute.

Drama that burns and music that sates.