Opera Kansas is proud to announce that Staggerwing by Lisa DeSpain, composer, and Rachel J. Peters, librettist, has been chosen as the winner of the $25,000 prize in the 2020 Zepick Modern Opera Competition (ZMOC.) This year’s competition received 128 submissions from composers all over the world, including all six continents, 18 countries and 35 states in the US. The competition asked composers to bring a story to life addressing the topic that “the unexamined life is not worth living” and encouraging audience members to be a positive change in their community.

Staggerwing is a dramatization of the historical flight of Louise Thaden and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, as they compete and win 1936 Bendix Trophy Race; the first year the prestigious aviation competition allowed all-female teams to compete. The Bendix Trophy was a grueling transcontinental race fraught with danger as competitors pushed the boundaries of aeronautics.

Staggerwing will also highlight the contributions of Olive Ann Beech of Wichita’s Beech Aircraft Company as a powerful advocate for women in aviation. Olive Ann Beech insisted that female pilots debut the company’s new Staggerwing biplane in the Bendix Trophy Race and despite fierce objections, engaged Thaden and Noyes.

Staggerwing will blend the music of the 1930s - blues, syncopated jazz and Tin Pan Alley song, with classical voice and opera.

The composer, Lisa DeSpain, was awarded an OPERA America Discovery Grant for Female Composers in 2018. Other awards include a Copland House Residency, a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellowship and the ASCAP Commission Honoring the Duke Ellington Centennial. DeSpain has been commissioned by Utah Opera, The United States Air Force Band of Flight, Cassatt String Quartet, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, New York Choral Society, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and the women’s choir, Bella Voce. She received her Master of Music in Jazz Piano Performance at Manhattan School of Music (‘97) and Bachelor of Music in Composition at the University of North Texas (‘91).

The librettist, Rachel J. Peters, has been the composer and/or librettist for operas performed by Sarasota Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Oberlin Conservatory, Boston Opera Collaborative, Utah Opera, Atlanta Opera, and Rhymes with Opera. She has also written works for Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire and The AIDS Quilt Songbook. Peters received a M.F.A. in Musical Theater Writing from New York University Tisch School of the Arts (‘05) and a double B.A. in Music and Theater Arts from Brandeis University (‘99.)

The ZMOC is an international competition that is held by Opera Kansas every other year. The mission is to find new operatic works for classical voice that inspire modern audiences. Dr. Lyle Zepick and his wife, Debi Johnson Zepick are the primary sponsors of the ZMOC, along with support from the Wichita Arts Council and the Kansas Arts Commission. The production of Staggerwing will debut in September 2020, as part of Dr. Zepick’s 70th birthday celebration.

The 2020 Zepick Modern Opera Competition Committee

Charleen Ayers, Singer/Actress

Ken Gale, Composer/Playwright

Michael Garvey, President, Builders Inc.

Dr. Timothy Jones, Visiting Asst. Professor of Violin, Wichita State University and Associate Concertmaster, Wichita Symphony Orchestra

Dr. John Leavitt, Composer/Conductor johnleavittmusic.com

Dr. Matthew Schloneger, Associate Professor of Voice, Friends University,

Ashley Winters, Managing Artistic Director, Opera Kansas

Rebecca Zepick White

Dr. Lyle Zepick

International Call for Proposals for the 2020 Zepick Modern Opera Commission

Expiration of Opportunity: September 2, 2019

Opera Kansas brings innovative, affordable and accessible opera to communities and schools throughout Kansas, while providing emerging musicians artistic opportunities in a respectful, professional environment. Opera Kansas introduces the art form of opera to thousands. In 2016, Opera Kansas, with the patronage of Dr. Lyle and Debi Zepick, created the Zepick Modern Opera Competition. This competition has yielded exciting new chamber operas in 2016 and 2018. Opera Kansas and the Zepicks believe that the next step for this program is to collaboratively create a work with a composer to be premiered in 2020.



Compensation: $25,000.00

Selected composers will receive a premiere, a professional recording (audio and video) of the live performance, features on our website and social media, and the possibility of future performances. Expenses for attendance at premiere performance September 2020 will be covered. Composer will also have opportunity for lectures at local universities and audience events leading up to the premiere performance.


This call for proposals is open to anyone who defines him/her/themself as a composer of music.


A 1-2 act chamber opera, not to exceed 60 minutes in duration. Music should be thematic, melodic and accessible tonally to the inexperienced ear. Style could range from traditional classical to rock, jazz, R&B, or other. Text must be in English. Strong consideration will be given to compositions/proposals that include definable arias/duets, etc.


The subject matter of the drama should center around the concept that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (James Baldwin). This concept should lead the main character(s) through a life altering experience or crisis of conscience to living a life of service and affecting change in their community and/or the world. Historical events or well known stories from literature that embrace this theme and that have endured through time will allow the composer to “jump into the action” without a lot of backstory to bring the audience up to speed. Examples such as John Newton a British slave trader turned abolitionist minister and author of Amazing Grace or Margaret Dryburgh, missionary to Singapore, interned in a camp in Sumatra during WWII, who created a vocal orchestra by transcribing orchestral works from memory and is the subject of the 1997 film Paradise Road. A contemporary example would be Malala Yousafzai.


September 2, 2019, 11:59PM Central Standard Time


3-5 voices: Voicing choices should be considerate of the limitations that often face small to medium sized companies, i.e. Countertenors are difficult to find. Please be practical in your choices especially considering we hope this work will be reproduced by other companies similar to ours and in university settings.

2-4 Instruments: piano is required. Instrumentations should also be considerate of the limitations that often face small to medium sized companies and university settings, virtuosity should be kept in check. A piano reduction will be required in the final draft for rehearsal purposes.

Content of submission:

Font: Times New Roman Pt. 12

Please include the following in one e-mail:

Timeline of the project:

Please submit proposals to: ZepickOperaKansas@gmail.com

Please use the subject heading: Call for Proposals Zepick Modern Opera 2020: “Your Name”


Please don’t hesitate to ask! Send any inquiries to: operakansas@gmail.com and please visit www.operakansas.org for more information about what we do and who we are. We are looking forward to reviewing your work!

Published date:

1 July 2019