Opera Commission with Rachel Jones and the Roberts Institute of Art

Grace Bailey

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Open Call for Proposals 

For a new opera commission, working with visual artist Rachel Jones and the Roberts Institute of Art (RIA) as part of RIA’s performance commissioning programme, ‘Practising Performance.’   

We are looking for a composer to work with Rachel and RIA to develop a score or semi-improvised piece ideally for solo soprano or mezzo-soprano, chamber choir and minimal instrumentalisation. The composer will be working with a new libretto written by Rachel and an invited poet based on the character of Maud Martha from Gwendolyn Brooks’ eponymous novel. The opera will take place in central London, late June 2023. The composer should be able to work closely with Rachel, RIA and the singers in the development of the opera in London.  

Full information about ‘Practising Performance’, RIA’s past performance programmes and Rachel Jones.  

About Practising Performance and RIA  

The Roberts Institute of Art (RIA) is is a non-profit contemporary arts organisation that commissions pioneering performance art, runs a residency programme in Scotland and collaborates with national partners on exhibitions to research and share the David and Indrė Roberts Collection.  

Practising Performance is a new commissioning programme to support artists who would like to engage with live performance. 

RIA invites a visual artist who is interested in exploring performance to take part in a multidisciplinary research and development programme to create a new performance work. 

About the opera commission 

Rachel Jones is well known for her painting practice, where she has developed a deeply personal approach to painting and abstraction that is centred on an exploration of her identity, the material and chromatic qualities of oil paint and the evolving poetic and political languages of black identity across history.  For Jones, music, sound and voice are fundamental to the development of her paintings and to her practice as an artist. These elements, and their related domains of silence, quiet and breath, will inform some aspects of Jones’ development of a new performance work.  

This performance work draws on opera, using this form to explore different modes of address, whether reverential, passionate, bold or vulnerable as well as the different capacities of the voice and breath. Jones is focusing on the character of Maud Martha from Gwendolyn Brooks’ eponymous novel, who will be the central figure in the libretto, currently written by Rachel and an invited poet.  The opera will explore black interiority and rest, with an emphasis on their intersection with feminism. The musical composition can be both scored and semi-improvised with the singers.  

The main character of Maud Martha would be sung by a soprano or mezzo-soprano, there would be a small choir or chamber choir, and minimal instrumentalisation (we would have access to a Fazioli grand piano).  

Who can apply? 

Composers at any stage in their careers who can work in London over the period of development of the opera. We particularly welcome applicants with lived experience of the concerns and ideas explored in the opera and from people from groups currently under-represented in the arts.  

As we are a small team, we are unable to offer feedback for unsuccessful applicants.  

How to apply  

Please write to info@therobertsinstituteofart.com with the subject heading ‘Practising Performance, Composition’ including a short covering letter of about 400-500 words explaining your interest in and suitability for this commission and 4-5 links of past compositions, preferably for voice.  


Negotiable based on experience.  

Closing Date 

Wednesday January 11th 2023  


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