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Spotlight Sunday Feature - Dana Kaufman and Tom Swift

Welcome back to Spotlight Sundays! We are pleased to resume this exciting feature as part of our countdown to our 10th annual New in November festival on Sunday, November 17 at the Christ Church Cathedral Cathedral House in downtown Hartford. We hope you've already purchased your tickets for this exciting evening celebrating new opera in Connecticut's capital city. To purchase your tickets for NIN10, visit our website! Today we are thrilled to introduce our composer/librettist duo behind our first Spotlight Sunday opera: Opera Kardashian. We are delighted to welcome composer, Dana Kaufman and librettist, Tom Swift to our 10th annual New in November Festival. We hope you enjoy learning about Dana, Tom, and what Opera for the 22nd Century means to them.


Hailed as a "whirlwind" (Gramophone) and and "lively, engaging and moving" (Berkshire Fine Arts), the music of composer Dana Kaufman (b. Chicago, 1989) has been heard throughout North America and Europe. Her works have been featured at venues and festivals such as New York Opera Fest; Contemporary Music Center of Milan; Jordan Hall; Boston New Music Festival; National Opera Week; soundSCAPE Festival; Charlotte New Music Festival; Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival; Opera on Tap Chicago; the national Estonian Music Days festival; Chosen Vale International Trumpet Seminar; Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Hall; College Music Society National Conference; Peoria Civic Center; Connecticut Summerfest; Atlas Performing Arts Center; Music by Women Festival; Baltimore War Memorial; International Clarinet Association's ClarinetFest; North American Jewish Choral Festival; Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre Fall Festival; FEASt Festival; Frontwave New Music Festival; Ravinia Festival’s One Score, One Chicago Series Youth Division; and FETA Foundation Concert Series; it has also been performed by ensembles such as Great Noise Ensemble, 5th Wave Collective, Third Eye Theatre Ensemble, a very small consortium, The Spatial Forces Duo, Firebird Ensemble, LNK New Music Collective, Wet Ink Ensemble, Resound Duo, Na Wai Chamber Choir, MiamiClarinet, So Percussion, Passepartout Duo, and performers with OperaRox Productions and the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra.

From 2012-2013, Kaufman was a Fulbright Student Research Fellow in Tallinn, Estonia, where she conducted ethnomusicology research, studied composition at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, and collected field recordings for incorporation into compositions. She is also the recipient of numerous other awards: Finalist, 2017 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards; Third Place in the 2017 American Prize Instrumental Chamber Music Student Division and Finalist in the Choral Music Student Division, 2016 Honorable Mention in the Chamber Music Student Division, and 2015 Semi-Finalist in the Opera/Theater/Film Division; Finalist in Hartford Opera Theater’s New in November 10 Call for Scores; University of Miami (UM) Dean’s Fellowship; New England Conservatory (NEC) Merit Awards and Scholarships; Finalist, OperaRox Productions’ New Works Competition; Amherst College Edward Poole Lay Fellowship; Winner of the Ensemble Ibis Composition Competition; Finalist in the New American Voices Composition Competition; Honorable Mention in the Boston Choral Ensemble’s Commission Competition; First Runner-Up in the Black House New Operas Project Composers’ Competition; Third Place in the Amherst College College Song Composition Competition; Eric Edward Sundquist Prize in Composition; Mikhail Schweitzer Memorial Book Award; First Place in the Music Institute of Chicago’s Generation Next Composition Competition; and is a winner of the Women Composers Festival New England Score Call and flutist Orlando Cela’s “Project Extended” Score Call. Her selected "Project Extended"; work, Hang Down Your Head, was released by Ravello Records on "Shadow Etchings: New Music for Flute" in February 2018. She was also Composer-in-Residence of the Na Wai Chamber Choir and Lutheran Church of the Ascension (IL), and Hashkiveinu (co-composed with Richard Cohn) is published by Transcontinental Music Publications and performed at synagogues throughout North America.

A frequent speaker, Kaufman has delivered lectures and presentations at institutions and conferences including the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, TallinnUniversity of Technology, Fulbright Enrichment Seminar in Prague on Public Space and the Arts, College Music Society Pacific Southwest Conference, College Music Society National Conference, Na Wai Conductor's Institute, Pedagogy Into Practice: Teaching Music Theory in the Twenty-First Century Conference, Music by Women Festival, and Women Composers Festival of Hartford, and was a panelist for "Gender Representation in New Opera" at New Music Gathering.

Kaufman graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College (Bachelor of Arts in Music in Russian), completed her Master of Music in Composition at New England Conservatory, and received her Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition at University of Miami Frost School of Music as the first Frost student to be a Dean’s Fellow. She is Visiting Assistant Professor in Music Composition at University of California, Riverside.

Here is what Dana wants HOTOpera fans to know about Opera Kardashian

My musical interest in the Kardashians came about when, a few years ago, I walked into the foyer of my Boston apartment to find my roommate watching the Kardashians on TV. I cannot exactly recall the focus of the segment, but after only a few minutes of watching, I realized that the Kardashians would make ideal opera characters.

I second Tom’s sentiments in saying that, yes, the Kardashians are known for glitz, glamour, their aggressive social media presence, affinity for plastic surgery, and apparently deep desire to occupy the tabloid spotlight. But through careful study of the Kardashians, Tom and I found opportunities to highlight intricately woven narratives and a dark dramedy of divorce, sex, gender dysphoria, betrayal, complex conceptions of femininity and sexuality, the relatively new art form that is reality TV, and the benefits and perils of fame. Ultimately, Tom and I aimed to depict one of the world’s most powerful families, which has captured the attention of the general public; the opera is often comical but also centers on family, the human condition, and the universality of the issues the Kardashians face.

Opera Kardashian (my doctoral dissertation) began as a song cycle--Cycle Kardashian--which Tom and I wrote for an OperaRox Productions commission, and which premiered at New York Opera Fest in 2017. After a successful “testing of the waters,” Tom and I proceeded to write the full opera, which received a workshop reading at University of Miami by Frost Opera Theater and Ensemble Ibis—and which was led by conductor Alan Johnson—in 2018. The HOT performance of Scene 2 from the opera will be the first staged production of any portion of the opera.

I composed the role of Caitlyn Jenner for performance exclusively by transfeminine/trans-identifying female vocalists. The creation of this role would not have been possible without tremendous guidance from trans musicians and advocates, who greatly aided Tom and me in establishing a sensitive, accurate, biographical, and appropriate portrayal of Jenner. I am both thrilled and very lucky to be working with Paxton Gillespie, the wonderful baritone who will be originating the role of Jenner in the November HOT performance.

Here is what Dana had to say about Opera for the 22nd Century:

To me, Opera for the 22nd Century means broadening the scope of how we define “opera,” shattering convention, and making the art form accessible with regard to content and affordability. Opera, which has upheld such rigid tradition, cannot succeed in the 22nd century without embracing inclusiveness as it pertains to casting, vocal writing, subject matter, attracting audiences, and modern interpretations of now-outdated works. As a composer, I believe I have an exciting and challenging responsibility to help open up an artistic space that has previously proved marginalizing in so many ways.


Tom Swift is a playwright, librettist and founder member of award-winning Irish theatre company The Performance Corporation. His work has included site-specific plays, and stage adaptations of classic texts, and in recent years he has written texts for opera including the award-winning version of James Joyce’s The Dead (Breda Cashe Productions, national tour), Beyond the Pale (Aldeburgh Music), a translation of Susanna’s Secret (Irish National Opera) and the reality TV themed Opera Kardashian. Other work includes Candide (Judges’ Prize, Irish Times Theatre Awards); Dr Ledbetter’s Experiment; Drive-By, Lizzie Lavelle and the Vanishing of Emlyclough, The Nose, Power Point, Swampoodle, Across the Lough, and The Table. Tom has also been commissioned by The Abbey, The Ark, NAYD and Fishamble. Tom was awarded the Jerwood Foundation Opera Fellowship at Aldeburgh Music (UK) in 2013. A book of his work, Tom Swift – Selected Plays is published by Carysfort Press.

Here is what Tom wants HOTOpera fans to know about Opera Kardashian:

Writing the libretto for Opera Kardashian has been a wonderful, sometimes strange, always enjoyable experience - a creative conversation between Dana and I.

We met online, on a Facebook group for librettists. Dana posted asking if anyone wanted to write an opera about well-known pop culture figures, but didn’t say who. I was intrigued and got in touch, but my heart sank a tiny bit when she told me this was to be about the Kardashians. To be honest, I hated the show but I loved the audacity of creating ‘high art' about a ‘low brow' reality TV show.

We knew this could be fun, but upon diving into the shiny, vacuous world of the Kardashians and we found there was something else there too. There was doubt and fear and loneliness and a struggle for identity. I think we have learnt a lot from the Kardashians - about the complexity of a life lived in public and the sacrifices and compromises that are made.

Dana and I still haven’t met in person. We joke that we’ll meet each other on the steps of the Met. There will be a red carpet and a big banner declaring Opera Kardashian. And Kim will be there, and Caitlyn too.

What Tom had to say about Opera for the 22nd Century:

Opera for the 22nd Century is work that looks forward, never back. It disregards convention and creates new audiences who don’t care about the past.


Thank you for tuning in to our Spotlight Sunday series featuring: Dana Kaufman, Tom Swift, and Opera Kardashian. Follow our social media pages this week for more information about this composer/librettist dream team and press/articles about their opera. See you next week!

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