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UC San Diego Soprano, Composer Strike the Right Note to Win NEA Award

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Promotional image for “Inheritance.” Image courtesy of Susan Narucki

The University of California San Diego’s Department of Music is known for its unconventional approach to the art of sound. The fact that soprano Susan Narucki and composer Lei Liang are collaborating to create a chamber opera around the theme of gun violence only fits that reputation. Their unique project entitled, “Inheritance,” struck a note with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which awarded the UC San Diego team an Artworks grant as part of its first $30 million in major arts funding for 2017.

“Inheritance” uses the life and legacy of Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester gun-manufacturer fortune, as a metaphor and means to explore society’s complex relationship with guns. It incorporates social awareness through satellite events that will include symposiums and panel discussions about guns and violence in America. The production will include a multimedia environment comprised of video, photography and complex interactive costuming. As many as three performances and a conference will take place at UC San Diego in the fall of 2018.

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UC San Diego Soprano Susan Narucki

“We are so delighted that ‘Inheritance’ has earned an Artworks grant,” said Narucki and Liang in a joint statement. “The entire creative team is committed to creating an opera that will open a space for dialogue and reflection about a critical issue in American society. We are immensely grateful to have earned the support of the National Endowment for the Arts.”

The NEA Artworks grant will help to support the commission, development and premiere of the developing multimedia chamber opera. With libretto by poet Matt Donovan, the story follows the eccentric widowed Winchester, who is self-imprisoned in her home, seeking refuge from the spirits of those killed by her family’s rifles. Narucki’s and Liang’s three-year project won its first funding earlier this year when it received a Creative Capital Award.

As “Inheritance” enters its second year of development, Donovan’s libretto is in its final stages of revision and key personnel are joining the project, including UC San Diego conductor Steven Schick, opera director Acushla Bastible and a number of renowned new-music instrumentalists from the UC San Diego Department of Music. The production team is led by artist Ligia Bouton, and the group has been offered a summer residency at the Leighton Artists’ Colony, Banff Center for the Arts, in the summer of 2017 for a workshop and development sessions.

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UC San Diego Composer Lei Liang

“Our arts departments were founded on the principle that art production and theoretical analysis should share the same intellectual and pedagogical spaces, seamlessly connecting the classroom with the stage, the studio and the concert hall,” said Division of Arts and Humanities Dean Cristina Della Coletta. “Interdisciplinary activities breed creativity and innovation, and Susan and Lei are excellent representatives of our campus’ and our division’s ethos.”

According to the NEA, the Artworks category spotlights the creation of art that meets the highest standards of arts excellence, diversity, public engagement, lifelong learning and community building—from theaters, to museums, to town halls, to hospitals.

“The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as the Department of Music at the University of California San Diego, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu.

The Department of Music is one of six departments within the No. 23 nationally ranked (U.S. News & World Report’s Best Global Universities 2017 listing) Division of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego.