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Mission Statement

The John Duffy Institute for New Opera, an ongoing project of the Virginia Arts Festival, seeks out and supports the work of opera composer/librettist teams by providing professional mentorship and a professional process for the development of their new work, with the intent to see the works through to full productions.



Eleven years ago, composer John Duffy began a partnership with the Virginia Arts Festival, with the first workshops of the Composers Institute, and we remember John's joyful spirit as we continue his work into the future.

During the first phase of the Institute, founded in 2005, fifty-five young composer fellows over ten years took part in annual workshops on the campus of Old Dominion University. The Institute provided them with singers, coaches and staging, allowing the fellows as opportunity to experience the practical challenges of opera composition while scenes from their opera were in rehearsal, culminating in a semi-staged concert performance. In addition, professional composers and librettists were invited to the Institute to meet with the fellows and share with them their experience in the field.

In 2015, Virginia Arts Festival refocused its efforts for the John Duffy Institute for New Opera, appointing renowned contemporary Libby Larsen as the Director, to carry on the work of John Duffy.

Now two years into this second phase, the Institute's focus is on scouting early career, seriously gifted composer/librettist teams who are already at work on their operas, and providing these teams with appropriate and effective professional mentors and producing partners, with the intent to see these works through to multiple productions.

A three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that funds select components of the project has enabled this shift.  This is the second multi-year grant from Mellon in support of the Institute.  The Institute is also funded by the Friedrich Ludwig Diehn Fund of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and receives the support of Old Dominion University’s F. Ludwig Diehn Composers Room.


Supported in part by the The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Friedrich Ludwig Diehn Fund of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and The Aaron Copland Fund for Music.

The March 2015 residency of the Institute focused on the works of the following opera composer/librettists: Dr. William (Bill) Banfield and librettist Yusef Komunyakaa; Hannah Lash and librettist Royce Vavrek; Rachel Peters; Mary Ellen Childs; Matthew Aucoin; and Kristin Kuster and librettist Megan Levad.

Each composer received a full reading of their work with vocalists and instrumentalists. A feedback session with the Institute faculty followed each reading, where next steps for development of each work were identified.

The next group of new works is currently being selected for readings and evaluations in March 2017.