Aria Institute: Mezzo March Edition (March-April 2022)

During March 2022, Really Spicy Opera will offer its Aria Institute for Composers and Librettists online and free of charge to a select group of participants, thanks to the gracious support of the Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and Network of Ensemble Theaters.

This offering of the Aria Institute has been specifically tailored to accommodate the ongoing 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 March 2022 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. Financial support to facilitate full engagement is available – an Aria Institute first!

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 March 2022 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:

  • Lisa Neher, mezzo-soprano
  • Courtney Kayser, mezzo-soprano
  • Jodi Goble, piano


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

  1. Have reliable high-speed Internet access.
  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 3.5-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 March 2022 offering of the Aria Institute has now been finalized:

Week 1

  • Friday, 3/11
    • All: 2-5 PM 
  • Saturday, 3/12
    • Writing Day
  • Sunday, 3/13
    • Writing & Feedback Day
    • 2-5 PM: Feedback Sessions*
  • Monday, 3/14-Thursday, 3/17: Off/Revisions

Week 2

  • Friday, 3/18
    • All: 2-5 PM 
  • Saturday, 3/19
    • Writing Day
  • Sunday, 3/20
    • Writing & Feedback Day
    • 2-5 PM: Feedback Sessions*
  • Monday, 3/21-Thursday, 3/24: Off/Revisions

Week 3

  • Friday, 3/25
    • All: 2-5 PM 
  • Saturday, 3/26
    • Writing Day
  • Sunday, 3/27
    • Writing & Feedback Day
    • 2-5 PM: Feedback Sessions*
  • Monday, 3/28-Thursday, 3/31: Off/Revisions

Final Session:

  • Friday, 4/1
    • All: 2-5 PM 
  • Saturday, 4/9
    • Showcase Concert: 2 PM

* – 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 Saturday, 2/25.

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 March 2022, thanks to the gracious support of the Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and Network of Ensemble Theaters.

What’s the deal with the financial support?

If receiving financial support will make a difference in your being able to participate fully in the Aria Institute, please select this option in the application form. (The selection is not factored into the acceptance process, and only revealed to the committee afterwards.)

Note that this is an opt-in, self-selecting option. Some examples of what might inform your decision:

  • Receiving financial support will help you to hire child care to focus your writing/participation time.
  • Receiving financial support will help you take time off from a job or contract work to focus your writing/participation time.
  • Receiving financial support will help you be less stressed and more focused.
  • You are a singer who wants to train as a librettist, and this will help you justify the investment of time.

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 March 2022 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 this offering doesn’t work with your schedule, the best thing to do is to apply for the next round of the Aria Institute.

Drama that burns and music that sates.