New Opera Workshop

In 2015, Writing the Rockies inaugurated the New Opera Workshop, currently one of only several dozen such workshops in America and one of only a handful that focuses on the creation of new libretti.

The workshop grows out of a course on the writing of libretti designed and taught by poet, librettist, critic, editor, rare book dealer and Poetry Concentration Director Ernest Hilbert, and now taught by gifted poet, critic, scholar and librettist Julie Kane. Third-year MFA candidates in poetry all take this course as their final summer intensive, and not only study the history of opera, but also draft an original libretto.

Over the last several years, Western Poetry MFA alumni who have taken the class have successfully begun to seek out composers to score their work, and as a result we conceived the idea to bring these new operas to the public in a workshop format. A vital creative culture requires not just intense and sustained study and practice, but also ways to help bring new art to fruition. In the case of opera, that means opening the doors to full production of new work, a long process. Given the strong resources for opera in Colorado, we thought we could find a way to begin to do this, and we were correct.

Our inaugural 2015 opera workshop was The Audubon Dream, by Karen E. Peace, with libretto by Laura Stuckey (Poetry MFA '13). We presented the first act of this two-act opera in piano reduction, oratorio-style.

Our second production, in 2016, was The Price of Pomegranates, by Jerome Malek, with libretto by Susan Spear (Poetry MFA '12). We presented this one-act opera in its entirety, with a chamber orchestra and conductor Benjamin Makino.

Our third production, in 2017, was Act I of Lottie Silks, by Jay Parrotta, with libretto by Enid Holden (MA '17). Jay and Enid have worked closely with Music Director Benjamin Makino and Stage Director Andrew Sellon to revise the work. We present Act II this year.

The Graduate Program in Creative Writing is honored that artists from Central City Opera have been performers in all of our workshops to date. In 2015 these were soprano Emily Murdock and lyric baritone Dr. Adam Ewing. In 2016, the Central City artists included mezzo soprano Tracy Kaufman and lyric baritone Tom Stizler. In 2017, the five Central City artists include sopranos Stephanie Ball and Ruth L. Carver, tenor Eapen Leubner, baritone Tom Sitzler, and tenor Joshua Zabatta. Central City is one of the preeminent opera organizations in America and we count ourselves fortunate to enjoy participation of their singers in our workshop.

Our hope is that the excellence all the artists bring to this workshop will give the composers and librettists the opportunity to continue developing their material and move towards fully produced performances with regional and national companies. Please join us for this exciting premiere.

Lottie Silks

Lottie Silks is two-act opera set in a parlor house and other locations in Gunnison, Colorado in 1882.  It is inspired by a true Western love story. This year, Writing the Rockies New Opera Workshop will be presenting Act II, in piano reduction. Act I was workshopped at WTR in 2017.


Herman, a butcher, falls in love with a paid dancing girl, Lottie, in a parlor house and marries her. His business partner’s wife, Adela, persuades the townsfolk that the match is not respectable. No one attends the wedding feast and Lottie continues to be spurned, even though she wins the crown anonymously at a miners’ ball. Lottie takes up painting to fill the lonely hours. Later, she falls ill and Adela exchanges her medication with poison. Lottie dies in Herman’s arms. Adela claims it is suicide, but with a little help from the townsfolk, Adela’s guilt is discovered and she is isolated.  Lottie’s spirit returns to Herman, affirming she will wait for him.


Act I: In scene one, Roland, a German immigrant, and his business partner, Herman, own a butcher shop in Gunnison. The two men frequent a parlor house, where they mingle with the hurdy-gurdy girls, who are paid dancers. Just as they are about to close up shop, Mrs. Bennett, the banker’s wife, appears and proves impossible to please. Roland and Herman head off to the parlor house, leaving their assistant Harry behind to close up. Mrs. Bennett returns to find her hat and meets Adela, Roland’s wife. She slights her and leaves. Adela is exasperated to find her husband has snuck off again. Just them Lottie, one of the dancers, enters the store. Adela takes out her frustrations on Lottie by scorning her. Lottie stands up for herself, saying one of the owners of the butcher shop is a favored admirer of hers.  Scene two takes place at the parlor house.  Roland, who is unhappily married to Adela, has an ongoing liaison with Gisela, a courtesan and close friend of Lottie’s. Herman waits for his turn to dance with Lottie, then surprises her by proposing marriage.  After a man is killed fighting to dance with Lottie, Lottie decides to accept Herman’s proposal and promise of a better life, despite protestations from both Roland and Gisela as the curtain falls.

Act II: In scene one, Adela, Roland’s insecure, social-climbing wife, alerts the townswomen of the disreputable marriage, and urges them to boycott the wedding feast. In scene two, when no guests arrive, the couple vow to ignore the slight, and reaffirm their love. In scene three, Lottie goes to the miner’s masked ball incognito, beautifully attired, to prove her grace and worth to the townspeople. The townsmen crown Lottie belle of the ball, but when she reveals her identity, Adela rips the crown off her head and demands she leave. In scene four, isolated by the town, Lottie has taken up painting to fill the lonely hours, a pastime shared by the untalented Adela. Herman arrives with news: one of Lottie’s paintings is bought by a museum (sparking Adela’s fury). Lottie feels ill and Herman brings the Doctor.  In scene five, Harry picks up the prescription from the pharmacist, but Adela manages to swap the medicine with poison. In scene six, Herman administers it to Lottie, who falls deathly ill in his arms. When the townspeople arrive to find out what happened, Adela tries to persuade them it’s suicide and Lottie should not be buried in the consecrated churchyard. Harry figures out what really happened with the help of the Pharmacist and the Doctor. Roland is mortified and disavows Adela. With her dying breath, Lottie forgives her, but the townspeople ostracize Adela and she becomes the true outsider. Lottie’s spirit returns, and she promises Herman she will wait for him.




Jay Parrotta
Justus (Jay) Parrotta possesses a varied and extensive music background while receiving numerous commissions and awards during his musical career. His works consist of music for solo instruments, voice, choir, congregation, chamber ensemble, orchestra, dance, opera, drama, electronics, and film including the critically acclaimed documentaryDakota 38. He holds a Bachelor’s of Music in Organ Performance with a Minor in Composition Magna Cum Laude, a Masters in Composition with a concentration in Concert Music, and a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Music Composition from The Catholic University of America’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. Venues throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia have featured his works. He teaches throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area.



Enid Holden

Enid Holden is a writer who has experience in many forms — as a singer-songwriter, playwright, columnist, book reviewer and librettist. Her undergraduate degree is from Rhodes University in Fine Arts and English Literature. She also holds an Honors degree in History of Art from the University of South Africa and was formerly an adjunct professor of History of Art at KwaZulu-Natal University. She completed a BA in Music at Western Colorado University in classical voice and sang in the chorus of the Crested Butte Music Festival for four consecutive years. She was selected as a performer in the Johanna Meier Young Artist program.

Holden completed an MA in Creative Writing in 2017 from Western Colorado University School of Graduate Studies. She has written three short plays, which have been produced at festivals. She also wrote the book and directed the premier of Getting it Wright, a musical comedy on the Wright Brothers. She wrote the libretto of Lottie Silks, composed by Justus (Jay) Parrotta, work-shopped in Washington, DC, as part of the New Voices program at the Catholic University of America and at Writing the Rockies, 2017. She has written a second libretto entitled The Teardrop Tiara, also set by Justus Parrotta. She is currently enrolled as a genre fiction student in the Creative Writing MFA at Western Colorado University and is working on a novel.

Music Director

Ben Makino
Benjamin Makino is a freelance conductor and director. Previously he was Music Director at Opera Memphis and Assistant Conductor at the Long Beach Opera, where he conducted that company’s highly praised productions of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, Michael Nyman’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Michael Gordon’s Van Gogh as well as the U.S. premieres of Gavin Bryars’ The Paper Nautilus and Stewart Copeland’s Tell Tale Heart. He also led the U.S. professional premiere of Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth at the Los Angeles harbor. He has previously been a director of the New York based Orchestra INSONICA, and is the founder of the Blackbird Music Project, which presented rarely performed works of vocal chamber music in Orange County, California. Under his leadership the Blackbird Music Project collaborated in a multimedia performance of Pierrot Lunaire with photographer and artist Jeff LeFever, and produced performances of vocal works by Luciano Berio, Marc-André Dalbavie, Tōru  Takemitsu and Dmitri Shostakovich. During the fall of 2012, Ben was the Music Director for Opera Memphis’ 30 Days of Opera, an innovative program of 30 days of free concerts around the greater Memphis metropolitan area, including performances at several local library branches, the Cooper Young Festival, Trolley Night and at various points along the route of The Color Run, in which he ran the 5km course, stopping to perform arias on a portable keyboard that he carried with him during the race.

Ben is a graduate of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program of the Washington National Opera where he was hand selected by Director Plácido Domingo. He made his main stage debut with that company conducting Hansel and Gretel at the historic Lincoln Theater. Other appearances with the WNO included a sold out run of performances of Così fan Tutte at the Washington National Opera Studio, and concerts at the Opera House of John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Music Center at Strathmore.  Since relocating to Memphis, he has been a regular guest conductor with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and has also appeared with Ballet Memphis, and the New Ballet Ensemble and School. He is the conductor on the recently released recording of Mark Abel’s opera Home is a Harbor, on Delos Records.

Ben completed studies at Chapman University and the University of California, Los Angeles and pursued advanced studies at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy. In 2014 he was identified by Opera America as a future leader in the field of Opera in the United States.

Stage Director

Andrew Sellon
Andrew Sellon teaches the second summer intensive for poetry students, "Performance Skills for Poets," in Western's Graduate Program in Creative Writing​, helping authors present their own works aloud in ways that will entertain and engage their audiences.  Andrew ​is also the Stage Director for the New Opera Workshop at Writing the Rockies. He holds an undergraduate degree in English from Harvard and an MFA in Acting from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His stage performances have been hailed by the New York Times and other newspapers across the country, and he taught acting for two years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ​He is best known to TV viewers in the recurring role of Mr. Penn in Fox's hit Batman prequel series, Gotham. ​Other recent film and TV appearances include Begin AgainMamaroshThe SmurfsThe BlacklistThe Mysteries of LauraThe Good Fight, and HBO’s Divorce. He is also an accomplished voiceover artist and audiobook narrator. ​His most recent titles are The Kevin Show by Mary Pilon, and Turncoat by Stephen Pullman. ​​Andrew also has over twenty years of corporate sphere experience in training, facilitating, coaching, and public speaking​  He presented a staged reading of his original solo play about Lewis Carroll and Alice, Through the Looking-Glass Darkly, at Writing the Rockies 2017.​

Conductor / Pianist

Sarah Stai
Sarah Stai is a graduate of the Western Colorado University music program, where she studied under Dr. Martha Violett. She has accompanied for the Crested Butte Mountain Theater, Western artists, and various soloists, theaters and churches here and in Minneapolis. Recently she participated as a soloist for the inaugural New Western Slope Chamber Music Series, performing Debussy's "Pour le piano." She was the pianist for the first Writing the Rockies New Opera Workshop, "The Audubon Dream," By Karen E. Peace, with libretto by Laura Stuckey (MFA '13). Sarah teaches private piano lessons to many talented young Crested Buttians and enjoys time in the mountains with her family.


Jason Baldwin
Jason Baldwin, tenor (Roland, Mr. Bennett, Pharmacist, Chorus) has performed with Central City Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Austin Lyric Opera, Utah Symphony & Opera, Opera Colorado, Utah Festival Opera, Opera Theatre of the Rockies, and other companies in roles such as Father Grenville in Dead Man Walking, Alfredo in La Traviata, Don José in Carmen, Rodolfo in La bohème, Tamino in The Magic Flute and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. Jason is also a sought-after concert artist with orchestras and choirs around the region.  As a member of the Central City Opera Ensemble, Jason currently appears in the cabaret show There’s a Song for That.


Adam Ewing
Lyric baritone Dr. Adam Ewing (Herman, Chorus) is an Affiliate Professor of Voice at Regis University. He made his operatic debut as Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance with Loveland Opera, and his orchestral debut as the lead of the barbershop quartet in The Music Man with the Colorado Symphony. Ewing has appeared as Schaunard (La Bohème), the Celebrant (Bernstein’s Mass), Sondheim (Side by Side by Sondheim), John Brooke (Little Women), Gianni Schicchi, Man 2 (Songs for a New World), Miles Gloriosus (A Funny Thing…Forum), and Schroeder (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), among others. He is a Central City Opera Touring Artist and regularly performs with Opera on Tap, Denver Early Music Consort, Denver Art Song Project, and others, as well as teaching, coaching, and accompanying singers. In addition to dramatic works, Ewing is an avid performer of art song. In summer 2013, he was one of six singers chosen for the Fall Island Vocal Arts Seminar where he studied with Stephanie Blythe and Alan Smith. He also spent a month in Canada as a student at the Vancouver International Song Institute, an intensive summer program for singers and pianists focusing on art song, particularly French repertoire and the songs of Schubert. Ewing enjoys singing contemporary American art song as well, working with both student composers and celebrated masters. He has sung in masterclasses and recitals for Roger Vignoles, William Bolcom, Lori Laitman, Jake Heggie, Libby Larsen, and Colorado composer Bob Spillman, whose songs he hopes to record this summer.

Clara Nieman
Clara Nieman (Lottie Silks) has earned critical praise for her "striking mezzo" (Opera News). In the 2017–2018 season Ms. Nieman rejoins Kentucky Opera to perform Dryade and cover Der Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos, perform Jade Boucher and cover Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking, and perform Berta and cover Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia. She also makes company debuts with St. Petersburg Opera (Florida) as Annina in La traviata, Finger Lakes Opera as Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, and Resonanz Opera (Ohio) as Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking. In the concert realm, Ms. Nieman joins the Lexington Philharmonic as Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, Bourbon Baroque for a concert of Handel arias, the Louisville Master Chorale for an evening of beloved opera excerpts, and the Richmond Symphony as alto soloist in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Ms. Nieman's 2016–2017 commitments included Suzuki in Madama Butterfly and Pitti-Sing in The Mikado with Kentucky Opera, Zita in Gianni Schicchi and Théodorine in Offenbach's L'île di Tulipatan with Crested Butte Music Festival, and Opera Fayetteville's "Opera in Bloom" new works festival. Her concert engagements included her Lexington Philharmonic debut as mezzo-soprano soloist in Stephen Paulus' To Be Certain of the Dawn, and a workshop with Writing the Rockies of Justus Parrotta and Enid Holden's new opera Lottie Silks. Additional recent operatic performances include Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro with Opera Saratoga, Olga in Eugene Onegin with Chautauqua Opera, Flora in La traviata with Opera Birmingham, Opera Naples, and Fort Worth Opera, the Mother in Hansel and Gretel with Performance Santa Fe, and Sor Rosa in Daniel Crozier's With Blood, With Ink with Fort Worth Opera, which was recorded and released by Albany Records. Additional recent concert appearances include the Chautauqua Symphony, the Fifth Avenue Chamber Orchestra, the Las Colinas Symphony, the Hall Ensemble, and the Cliburn Foundation.

Paige Sentianin
Paige Sentianin, soprano (Adela, Chorus), has been praised for her clear sound and “coquettish vivacity both in her acting and singing.” Recently, she completed her Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy at CU Boulder, studying under Matthew Chellis. While with Eklund Opera she performed as Johanna in Sweeney Todd, Valencienne in The Merry Widow, and Papagena in The Magic Flute while also covering the role of Pamina. Other credits include Giannetta in The Elixir of Love (Boulder Opera Company), Suor Dolcina in Suor Angelica (Opera on Tap Colorado), Maguelonne in Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon(Hawaii Performing Arts Festival), and Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance (LMU Sinatra Opera Workshop). No stranger to new music, Sentianin has worked with the CU New Opera Workshop for the past two summers where she sang in a new opera by Mark Adamo and premiered opera scenes written by student composers. Sentianin is also an established soloist in the area and has performed major works with the CU Boulder Early Music Ensemble, the Denver Pro Chorale, the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, and the Cantabile Singers.



Margaret Siegrist

Margaret Siegrist (Gisela, Mrs. Bennett, Chorus) is a Colorado mezzo-soprano praised for her acting prowess and appealing vocal color. Recent roles include Dorabella in Così fan tutte with Boulder Opera Company’s Boulder Arts Week production, Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro with University of Northern Colorado in collaboration with Livermore Valley Opera and Dinah in UNC’s Trouble in Tahiti. Siegrist made her professional debut in Germany as Zweite Dame in Mozart’s DieZauberflöte and covered Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus with Opera Classica Europa, 2016. She also champions arts engagement and education, touring with Central City Opera’s education ensemble, regularly performing with Opera on Tap and appearing in community performances with Boulder Opera and Opera Fort Collins. Siegrist is a professional chorister with Opera Colorado. She earned her master’s in Voice Performance at University of Northern Colorado under Dr. Melissa Malde. When she isn’t onstage, Margaret works as a marketing consultant and education program coordinator with local opera companies. 



Gregory Zabatta
Tenor Joshua Zabatta (Harry, Doctor, Chrous) returns this year to the Writing the Rockies New Opera Workshop to continue to develop Lottie Silks. He never imagined that singing while driving a tractor on a Montana farm, where he grew up, would eventually lead to a promising career in opera. Although originally planning on a career in broadcasting, he was lured into the exciting world of opera after he participated in the Johanna Meier Opera Theatre Institute hosted by Black Hills State University. He then went on to complete his master’s degree in music at Washington University in St. Louis. Since emerging onto the professional scene, he has been praised for his dynamic storytelling and his full, warm voice described by audiences as "audible chocolate." After a concert with the Bach Society of St. Louis, Sarah Bryan Miller of the St. Louis Post Dispatch referred to Mr. Zabatta as “a really terrific soloist whose performance was a great benefit to the evening.” He went on to multiple solo appearances with the Bach Society, including performing the Mozart Requiem. A highlight from his time in the midwest was serving as soloist in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with the St. Louis Symphony under the baton of David Robertson. Within the past few seasons, he has become a sought after soloist throughout the Rocky Mountain region with performances including the Mass in G by Carl Maria von Weber, Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass, Oratorio de Noël by Saint-Saëns, Chilcott’s setting of the St. John Passion, and Beethoven’s Mass in C. The 2016-2017 season saw debuts with Opera Colorado as Harry in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West as well as with Boulder Opera singing Don José in Bizet’s Carmen and Fernando in Goyescas by Granados. Last season, he portrayed Harlekin and Ein Soldat in Der Kaiser von Atlantis with the newly formed People’s Theatre of Denver in addition to singing the Solo Prisoner in the premiere of Gerald Cohen’s Steal a Pencil for Me with Opera Colorado. Next season Mr. Zabatta returns to Boulder Opera where he will sing Turridu in their production of Cavalleria Rusticana.

Production Staff

Enid Holden
Opera Workshop Coordinator Enid Holden is also the librettist for this year's opera, Lottie Silks. See directly above for her biography.






Noah M. Rothman
Noah M. Rothman, this year's videographer, is a rising junior at the Crested Butte Community School.