Morrison says she follows her guts and her ears in her work. "I won't do anything unless I'm mad crazy about the music and the composer and really feeling like they're contributing something to the field that is different," she says.
David T. Little says Morrison expressed this kind of excitement for his work Soldier Songs after she watched a video he sent her. "[She] called me almost immediately and says, 'We have to do this piece. I don't know where we're gonna get the money, I don't know how we're gonna do it ... but we have to do it!'" he says.
Little says this moment was a perfect illustration of how Morrison works: When she's excited about something, she makes it happen. Their work together has continued: Last year, Morrison featured Little's post-apocalyptic opera, Dog Days, at Prototype, the annual festival she co-produces to showcase new work. The 2017 festival begins tonight in New York.
Morrison doesn't have her own theater. Instead, she partners with venues in New York and around the country to give works more than one hearing. "[Composers] need their works to be seen by as many people as possible," she says. "I feel like I've succeeded — particularly with an opera project, 'cause they're large and expensive — if we've been able to give two to five presentations of the piece in different cities."
One project that achieved success by this metric was Mazzoli's latest opera, Breaking the Waves. Last fall, Morrison partnered with Opera Philadelphia to present the piece, and it's now being done at this year's Prototype festival. Kamala Sankaram, whose opera Thumbprint premiered at the first Prototype, will see it restaged at LA Opera this June, thanks to Morrison's efforts.
Morrison's commitment to extending the life of her composers' works has made them just as passionately devoted to her as she is to them. Sankaram says Morrison's work is not easy.
"To make contemporary opera your business takes a lot of guts," Sankaram says. "I don't want to go there too much, but there's still a lot of sexism in our field, and so for her to do this on her own is really kind of astonishing."
Morrison's current season includes five world premieres, nine tours and her annual festival — all funded and produced out of her apartment-based nonprofit. Her schedule is certainly packed, but she says championing new composers has been intensely rewarding work.
"It's been thrilling to be a part of the launch of these incredible composers," she says. "It really has been this symbiotic relationship that I feel very grateful for."
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