William Henry Fry, born in 1815, has been considered by many, to be the father of American opera. His most famous opera, Leonora, debuted in 1845. In Europe at this time, the Romantic period was developing lead by figures such as Wagner, Schumann and Chopin. Fry’s opera Leonora the first opera by an American composer to be performed in the US. Over the years there have been many American composers following in his footsteps and as diverse as Americans are, they each have possessed their own unique style.

Probably the most important opera composer of the 20th century was Virgil Thomson. He composed four operas and the two most popular were collaborations with author Gertrude Stein. He was influential in the creation of what is known as “American Sound” and was awarded Yale University’s Sanford Medal and the National Medal of Arts.

Born near the beginning of the 20th century, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein were probably better known for their popular music but all three of these men also composed operas. Porgy and Bess, composed by Gershwin, is one of the most successful operas of the 20th century. Copland wrote two operas, The Second Hurricane and The Tender Land which are perfect for young voices. Bernstein was a master at blending Broadway and Opera, most notably in his Broadway Operetta, Candide.

In contrast, Douglas Moore, 1893-1969, was a rare American composer, in that he was most famous for his operas, not his popular music. Although he composed ten operas, his most well-known is The Ballad of Baby Doe. He was a significant figure in both the advancement of American music and music education.

Gion Carlo Menotti was born in Italy in 1911, but came to the U.S. in 1928 and became one of the most popular names in American opera, composing over twenty of them in his lifetime. In 1934 he was the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor and in 1991 was named “Musician of the Year” by Musical America.

Philip Glass, who is considered to be the pioneer of minimalistic opera, and Jake Heggie, who is an extremely talented pianist and piano composer are both celebrated contemporary opera composers. Glass has composed over twenty operas beginning in the 1970’s with his latest in 2007, while Heggie is an up-and-coming composer who got started in the year 2000 and continues to be successful with his latest opus being the recent premier of Moby Dick.

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