Encompass New Opera Theatre, Brooklyn, New York, Ongoing Programs

Marie Kraja International Singing Competition


Opera America



Over 35 Years of Excellence


Encompass New Opera Theatre is dedicated to the creation, development and production of adventurous new music theatre and contemporary opera, as well as the revival of important musical works by American and international composers. In the vanguard of companies devoted to widening the recognition of America's outstanding composers, dramatists, singers and musicians, Encompass has, since its inception in 1975, produced over 56 full-scale productions with orchestra and staged readings of over 155 new works, from jazz and cabaret to musicals and opera.

Company productions represent a vast tapestry of American voices and genres, garnering a reputation for creative process, quality performances and artistic passion. Encompass plays a vital role in the cultural landscape by:

  • Creating an arts incubator for new composers and librettists;
  • Keeping 20th and 21st century American opera alive with fresh, new productions;
  • Nurturing American singers from diverse backgrounds;
  • Creating cross-cultural music theatre collaborations;
  • Providing international exposure for contemporary American opera;
  • Developing new audiences for music theatre and opera.


In May 2000, Opera America honored Encompass and founding Artistic Director Nancy Rhodes for “25 Years of Dynamic Leadership.” International conductor/Pianist Mara Waldman is the Music Director. Among the many innovative new works staged by Ms. Rhodes include the world premieres of Michael Stewart, Mark Bramble, Richard Engquist and Doug Katsaros’ musical Elizabeth and Essex, which starred Estelle Parsons, Only Heaven by Ricky Ian Gordon, based on poetry by Langston Hughes, and Arif Mardin’s opera, I Will Wait; American premieres of George Antheil’s 1920s jazz opera, Transatlantic and Venus in Africa; and most recently, the New York premiere of Russian composer Grigori Frid’s compelling opera, The Diary of Anne Frank.

Notable productions include the comic operas Frustration, words and music by Sheldon Harnick, and Satisfaction, words and music by Charles Strouse, the opera Phaedra by Benjamin Britten, Postcard from Morocco and Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night by Dominick Argento, Regina by Marc Blitzstein, The Tender Land by Aaron Copland, Pantaloon, He Who Gets Slapped by Robert Ward, and Encompass’ award-winning production of The Mother of Us All by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein, as well as operas by Samuel Barber, Jack Beeson, Lukas Foss, Louis Gioia, Michael John LaChiusa, George Quincy and librettist Benjamin Barber, and Peter Westergaard.

Internationally, for The Holland Festival, Encompass New Opera Theatre premiered Eccentrics, Outcasts and Visionaries, A Century of American Opera in Amsterdam, and toured four cities in the Netherlands.

Dedicated to introducing American musicals abroad, Rhodes staged Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in 2004 and Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate in 2007 at the Albanian National Opera in the capital city of Tirana. These were the first American musicals ever staged in the history of the country and were filmed for National Albanian Television.

For its 2003 Mainstage production, Encompass presented a double bill of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison’s A Full Moon in March, based on a play by W.B. Yeats, paired with the New York premiere of composer Hans Werner Henze’s The End Of A World, libretto by Wolfgang Hildesheimer and translated by Wesley Balk.

In February, 2004, Encompass presented the premiere of Seymour Barab’s comic opera A Perfect Plan, freely adapted from a play by W.S. Gilbert, as a co-production with After Dinner Opera, in sold-out performances at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space.

The leitmotif providing the impetus for three new musical works is “Breaking Through Barriers.” Guided by this theme, Encompass has commissioned and is developing three new operas which explore the outer reaches of science and human potential as witnessed in leading visionaries of the 20th and 21st centuries ---artists, writers, inventors, and physicists.

The first of those new works premiered in June 2005 with Encompass New Opera Theatre’s production of A Gertrude Stein Musical Trilogy exploring the vision, genius and wit of Gertrude Stein in music. The trilogy featured Ned Rorem’s Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters and Virgil Thomson’s Capital Capitals, both operas with texts by Stein herself; and the world premiere of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, a new jazz opera with music by William Banfield and Story and Text by poet Karren LaLonde Alenier.

In June 2008, Encompass composer Philip Hagemann teamed up with George Bernard Shaw to musicalize two of his most fascinating plays which explore literary inspiration and passion---The Dark Lady of the Sonnets and Passion, Poison and Petrifaction. Under the title, Shaw Sings! this witty double-bill with singers and orchestra played sold-out performances at Symphony Space.

In 2009, the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center invited Encompass to stage the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thomson opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, the “first opera ever staged on Broadway at the 44th Street Theatre in 1934.” Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of this landmark opera, the Encompass production featured 32 singers and dancers plus full orchestra.

Rounding out the season, Encompass produced the world premiere of Louis Gioia’s opera, I Tre Compagni (The Three Companions), based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s compelling tale of passion and greed from The Canterbury Tales. Featuring an orchestra of 34 musicians and a cast of 36 singers and dancers, Encompass performed at the 605-seat Gerald W. Lynch Theatre on 59th Street, near Lincoln Center.

Currently in development is The Theory of Everything, a new opera commissioned by Encompass New Opera Theatre. With music by composer John David Earnest and libretto by Nancy Rhodes, this new work explores ideas of science, spirituality, the nature of consciousness and our search for meaning. Inspired by physics’ superstring theory postulating the simultaneous existence of at least 10 dimensions, and that everything in the universe---from our bodies to the farthest star—is made up of vibrating strings, the story revolves around Cassy, an 8-year-old child, Rachel, her documentary filmmaker mother, and Tomás, her quantum physicist father from Brazil. Dramatic events involving the family, catapault a metaphysical and scientific search into other dimensions and alternate universes.

On May 12, 2007 and May 6, 2006, at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, Encompass presented staged highlights from The Theory of Everything in New York City Opera’s VOX: On the Edge program of new operas-in-progress. In Season 2009-2010, Encompass presented three concert readings of The Theory of Everything on November 12 at The South Oxford Space, November 14 at Elebash Hall under the auspices of the Science & Arts Series at CUNY, and December 9 at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space.

Encompass Artistic Staff

Nancy Rhodes (Artistic Director/Librettist), a champion of American Opera, staged the world premiere of Kirke Mechem’s Tartuffe for San Francisco Opera, Virgil Thomson’s Lord Byron at Alice Tully Hall, new operas for the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and Pittsburgh Opera Theatre. Internationally, she directed Death In Venice (Stockholm), Carmen (Oslo), Happy End (Finland), Kiss Me Kate (Ankara, filmed for TV), West Side Story (Istanbul), and Eccentrics, Outcasts and Visionaries: A Century of American Opera, Holland Festival (Amsterdam). At Encompass she staged over 50 operas, including Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All, Blitzstein’s Regina, Britten’s Phaedra, and Antheil’s Transatlantic. She co-conceived/directed Only Heaven with composer Ricky Ian Gordon, with poetry by Langston Hughes. Her acclaimed production of Grigori Frid’s opera The Diary of Anne Frank toured to Cleveland Opera. As Vice President/U.S. Delegate to the International Theatre Institute, Rhodes has conducted workshops and been a guest speaker in Italy, Sweden, Germany, Venezuela, Argentina, Korea, Holland, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Estonia. In June 2004, she was invited to direct the first American musical ever staged in the country of Albania at the National Opera House and filmed for television. She is currently the commissioned librettist of The Theory of Everything, a new opera inspired by physics’ superstring theory of multiple dimensions and alternate universes.

Mara Waldman (Music Director) graduated from the Manhattan School of music with a Master’s degree in piano and made her Carnegie Hall debut to critical acclaim. She was a winner in the New York Chopin Foundation Council International Auditions, the International Piano Recording Competition and recorded the solo piano music by Vittorio Rieti for Columbia Records. She made her conducting debut with the Bel Canto Opera Company and was Artistic director of the company for two years. Ms. Waldman has been a cover conductor for the New York City Opera, and for the national tours of Il Barbiere di Siviglia and La Traviata. She has been a guest conductor and teacher with the New Operafestival di Roma since 1999. She has appeared with the New York Grand Opera in concerts, opera productions, and prepared the chorus for several operas in the Viva Verdi Festival in Central Park to critical acclaim. She is president of the Leschetizky Association and past president of the New York Singing Teachers’ Association. She was a coach at the AIMS program in Graz, Austria, and the Southampton Chamber Festival, and has been music director for the Black Hills Festival on the Arts Vocal Program.

John David Earnest (composer The Theory of Everything) has composed extensively for orchestra, chamber ensembles, chorus, solo voice and opera. His major orchestral works include Second Symphony-The Hastening Light; Southern Exposure; Chasing the Sun (recorded by the Warsaw National Philharmonic); Bountiful Voyager; Sun Songs and Nocturnes (commissioned for Chanticleer and the New Jersey Symphony, Hugh Wolff, conductor); Concerto No.1 for Piano & Orchestra; and Concerto No. 2 for Piano & Strings (premiered in 2004 by the Sinfonia Bucharest, Robert Bode, conductor; Lee D. Thompson, piano; in Bucharest, Romania).

Mr. Earnest's major choral works are A Van Doren Triptych; Only in the Dream; Variations on Three American Folksongs; and In After Time (recently performed by the Riverside Choral Society at Merkin Concert Hall, New York City). His stage works include the popular The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (written with librettist Mervyn Goldstein and premiered by the Virginia Opera in 1997); Howard (finalist in the New York City Opera American Opera Competition); and A Desperate Waltz (commissioned and premiered by Golden Fleece Composers Chamber Theater in New York City). His chamber music includes the Sonata for Piano (premiered by Lee D. Thompson); The Blue Estuaries (for soprano and seven instruments, recorded by Judith Kellock and Ensemble X on Koch International Classics); and Aria and Chorale (for violin and piano; premiered in 2004 by Dona Lee Croft at St. Martin's in the Fields, London).

In addition to his several song cycles and individual songs, Mr. Earnest recently completed a thirty-minute dramatic cycle, Songs of Hadrian (for tenor and piano, on texts by Arch Brown, for premiere in 2006). He is currently working on two new choral commissions (for Whitman College and for the Santa Fe Desert Chorale). Mr. Earnest teaches composition privately in New York City. He is also composer-in-residence and visiting professor at Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington. He has taught at Lehman College, City University of New York; and Rutgers University in New Jersey. His music is published by E.C.Schirmer Music Publishing, Boston.

Encompass New Opera Theatre
Board of Trustees 2011

Daniel J. De Siena

Barbara Bliss and Bettye Martin Musham
Co-Chairs, Emeriti

Nancy Rhodes, President
Barbara Bliss, Secretary
Lester Wigler, Treasurer

Jane Clegg
Barbara G. Eubanks
Harriet Slaughter, Emeritus
Jean Telljohann, co-Chair, Emeritus

Encompass Advisory Board

Sheldon Harnick, co-Chair 
John Kander, co-Chair
Maury Yeston, co-Chair
Suzy Bassani
Michael Bawtree
Martha Coigney
Pamela Drexel
Gene Feist
Justin Ferate
Raymond L. Forsythe
Jack Gaughan
Michael Gill
Ricky Ian Gordon
O. Aldon James, Jr.
Sharon Kanach
Sturla Lange
June LeBell
Tania Leon
Robert E. Levy, Esq.
David Lloyd
Dr. Hellmuth Matiasek
Kirke Mechem
Louis Newman
Dorothy Olim
Sally Ordway
Murray Rosenthal
Stephen Sondheim
Guy Stern
Edward Thomas
Keith Turnbull
Robert Ward

Encompass Founding Advisory Board

Jack Beeson (1921-2010)
Jean Dalrymple (1902-1998)
Lehman Engel (1910-1982)
Lee Hoiby (1926-2011)
Arif Mardin (1932-2006)
Alwin Nikolais (1910-1993)
Tony Randall (1920-2004)
Harold Schuler (1926-2000)
Michael Stewart (1924-1987)
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989)




The Diary of Anne Frank The Diary of Anne FrankThe National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has generously awarded Encompass New Opera Theatre a coveted Access to Artistic Excellence grant for The Theory of Everything.

Encompass New Opera Theatre’s productions and activities are made possible with public funds from The New York State Council on the Arts (a state agency) and with funding support from: the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust; OPERA America’s Opera Fund (launched by the National Endowment for the Arts, and funded by the Helen F. Whitaker Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Canada Council on the Arts, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation, and the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation); Meet the Composer’s JP Morgan Chase Regrant Program for Small Ensembles; the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust’s 2003 Program for Contemporary Music Projects (administered by Concert Artists Guild); the JP Morgan Chase Regrant Fund for Theatres (administered by A.R.T./New York); the Judith S. Randal Foundation; the Cornelius N. Bliss Memorial Fund; The Dramatists Guild Fund; the Edith Meiser Foundation; the Virgil Thomson Foundation; The Word Works; US Trust Company of New York; the Charles Schwab Foundation Matching Gifts Program; League of American Theatres and Producers Matching Gifts Fund; Altria Matching Gifts Program; and our Generous Patrons.