The Daily Gamecock

School of Music's Mandy Fang receives grant to bring original opera to stage

Opera is in Mandy Fang’s family. Her father, sister and brother-in-law are all professional opera singers, but Fang has stayed on the composition side of the centuries-old art. She recently completed her first opera, funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is now among eight women chosen by Opera America to receive a $12,500 grant to bring her production to the stage.

“For me, it is very natural to love opera and to write for the opera,” said Fang, a research assistant professor in USC’s School of Music.

The grant, funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, was created in order to support and increase the number of operas produced by women in the United States. Over 25 years, Opera America has awarded almost $13 million in support of new operas, but fewer than five percent of the pieces supported by that money were written by female composers.

“Because I have had music history classes, I could name you three female composers, but if you went up to someone on the street … they probably couldn’t come up with one,” said Laura Lee Everett, Opera America’s artistic services director.

The eight grants worth $100,000 in total will help fund projects, including an adaptation of “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” a novel about women in contemporary Afghanistan and a production that tells the story of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. One hundred fourteen women applied for the grants; choosing the eight recipients was a big undertaking, Everett said.

“It was a gigantic volume of applicants,” she said. “To narrow it down and select the eight that we did was an amazing process.”

Fang’s opera, “The Golden Lily,” is based on “Jin Ping Mei,” a Chinese novel that had been banned in the country for centuries. The opera features three female leads, furthering the focus on women in opera.

Fang’s composition style made her stand out to Opera America’s adjudication panel, Everett said.
“Her work was really exceptional in terms of being creative,” Everett said. “Her style was unique and well-written for the voice, which is a huge component.”

Much of Fang’s earlier work is for instrumental ensembles, and “The Golden Lily” is only her second full composition for voice. Writing for the voice presents more challenges than writing for instruments and instrumental ensembles, Fang said.

“For instruments, it’s in a way easier than voice. Voice has a certain range and, although it is the most natural instrument, there are certain limits,” Fang said. “You can’t make the voice jump around like an instrument can. You also have to make it stand out from the other instruments.”

Her first major vocal composition was “Raspberry Pink,” a song cycle for soprano, baritone and piano. She premiered the 45-minute composition, which also features an actor, in April 2013.
“Since I have that, it’s helped me to gain the confidence to work more (with vocal music) and include more drama,” Fang said. “Opera is not just voice; it is theater and drama.”

The first production of “The Golden Lily” is planned for the USC stage within two years, Fang said. It was the director of Opera at USC, Ellen Schlaefer, who encouraged Fang to apply for the grant.
“I wasn’t sure I should apply until the very last minute, but I’m glad I did,” Fang said. “Now [Schlaefer] is directing the opera. It’s really wonderful to work with her.”


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