Penny is a NEW opera about the power of music. In the course of this one-hour opera, we see the leading character Penny Rutherford literally and figuratively find her voice. As Penny learns to express herself through singing, she transforms before our eyes and begins to believe in herself. Penny also happens to be a person with autism. As the saying goes, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” In this opera you’ll meet Penny, who is singular in every way. She does not typify a person with autism, but is one representation of it.

Staged for the first time outside of its commission with the Washington National Opera/Kennedy Center, this virtual production will be marketed to a national audience. We will be working with disability rights advocates to present this work over a two week run.

Penny Media Kit


Tickets $25 Price increases to $40 on March 19

Purchase tickets

STUDENTS $5 Please purchase through OGR Box Office

Link and password to the virtual performance will be sent via email on March 18. For tickets purchased after March 18, this information will be sent out on a rolling basis.

Production Team

Austin McWilliams | Conductor

Austin McWilliams, conductor and countertenor, strives to present compelling, intriguing music that is directly relevant to the communities in which it is performed.

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He is an Adjunct Professor at Western Michigan University, where he conducts the university operas and assists the choral division. Austin is the Co-Artistic Director of the Ad Astra Music Festival, a classical music festival in Russell, Kansas, known for its innovative and unique programming. In 2019 at Ad Astra, Austin conducted the outdoor premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s new opera Proving Up, and he will conduct the world premiere of Anna Pidgorna’s opera about the life of Trudy Furney in 2021. He is a faculty member at Missouri Scholars Academy, an annual, month-long governor’s school for gifted high school juniors. In 2019, Austin earned a Master of Music degree in choral conducting at WMU under Kimberly Dunn Adams. There he designed a recital on HIV/AIDS awareness in collaboration with several community organizations. Austin graduated in 2017 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering with highest honors. He hails from the illustrious micropolitan hub of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where he received his formative training from Rachael Bonk.

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Cara Consilvio | Stage Director

Cara Consilvio is a director and producer of opera, film and theater.

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In 2019, Cara directed An American Dream at Anchorage Opera, The Elixir of Love for Piedmont Opera and The Threepenny Opera for Syracuse Opera. In 2018, Cara directed the world premiere of Inheritance by composer Lei Liang and librettist Matt Donovan for UC San Diego. She directed her first Suor Angelica with Tri-Cities. She also directed After Life and Dialogues of the Carmelites for Loyola University New Orleans and The Merry Widow for The Hartt School. Cara earned outstanding reviews for her 2017 productions of Hydrogen Jukebox at Chautauqua Opera and Glory Denied at Tri-Cities Opera.

Cara is a co-founder of Hup! Productions. Her film directing projects include a feature documentary currently in production titledFor the Love of Friends, her debut narrative short film C.I.T., which was screened at eleven festivals and her upcoming short film Dry. Cara is executive producer and co-story writer of the horror comedy feature film Camp Wedding, which is currently finishing its festival run and being distributed by Gravitas Pictures. She has also produced and directed many tribute videos, promotional videos, and behind the scenes mini-docs for the NEA Opera Honors, the NEA Jazz Masters videos, OPERA America and American Composers Orchestra.

Cara brings her extensive performance background and training as a dancer, actor and singer to her work. She earned a BA in Dramatic Art and Dance from UC Berkeley, where she trained in Graham and Cunningham technique with Marnie Wood and Carol Murota. She pursued advanced acting training with the American Conservatory Theater and Williamstown Theater Festival. During her seven years as an actor in NYC, Cara studied acting and improvisation with Michael Howard, Gene Frankel, Kurt Braunohler and Armando Diaz, performing in independent films, theater and dance. As a singer, Cara trained in musical theater and opera. She studied voice with Bill O’Neill, Mark St. Laurent, Craig Wich and Martina Arroyo, and completed three years of post-baccalaureate studies in vocal performance at SUNY Fredonia.

When she’s not directing, Cara enjoys going on adventures with her husband, Alex and her dog, Marty.

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Robert Byrens | Accompanist

As one of the region’s most sought after collaborative pianists, Robert Byrens’ playing has been described as “beautifully expressive with a singing tone and impeccable articulation.”

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He served as artist faculty pianist and vocal coach at Grand Valley State University for thirty years, retiring in 2020. Robert was the rehearsal pianist and vocal coach for Opera Grand Rapids from 1993 until his retirement in 2018, but he enjoys occasional return engagements. In 2016, he partnered with Nancy Steltmann, former principal cellist of the Grand Rapids Symphony, to form “Il Duo Lirico”.

Robert has performed in vocal master classes for many renowned singers and pianists including Phyllis Curtin, Elly Ameling, Gerard Souzay, Jessye Norman, Martin Katz, and Robert Spillman.  As a professional violist, he has been a member of the Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, South Bend, and Battle Creek Symphonies. He has performed in summer festivals at the Blossom Music Center, Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute, Fontana Chamber Arts, Garth Newel and the Chamber Music Festival of Saugatuck where he was Associate Artistic Director and performer from 1993 through 2008.

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Claudia Chapa | Penny

Mexican mezzo-soprano Claudia Chapa received her training from the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas-Austin, where she performed Beatriz La Hija de Rappaccini in the world premiere of the late Daniel Catán’s revised version.

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Her other roles included La Zia Principessa Suor Angelica, the title-role of Rodriguez’s La Curandera, Gertrude Hänsel und Gretel,and Mrs Herring Albert Herring.  She is an alumnus of the prestigious young artist programs including the International Vocal Arts Institute (both in Blacksburg, VA and Tel Aviv, Israel), Des Moines Metro Opera, and the Glimmerglass Festival for which she was chosen as a young artist for two consecutive seasons. Upcoming engagements include Josefina El Milagro del Recuerdo with Arizona Opera and Alisa Lucia di Lammermoor with Opera San Antonio.

Recent engagements include the Lieberson Neruda Songs and El Amor Brujo with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Fenena Nabucco with West Bay Opera and Josefina El Milagro del Recuerdo with Houston Grand Opera.

Operatic engagements include such theatrically dynamic roles as Azucena Il Trovatore with St. Petersburg Opera Company, Winter Opera St. Louis and Opera in Williamsburg, Zita in both Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost with Opera Delaware and Baltimore Concert Opera, Marcellina Le Nozze di Figaro with Charlottesville Opera, Ulrica Un Ballo in Maschera, Madame Flora The Medium and the Witch Hänsel und Gretel with Opera in the Heights, Fairy Godmother in Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella with Opera San Jose, Mary The Flying Dutchman and Dryade Ariadne auf Naxos with Austin Opera, Berta Il Barbiere di Siviglia with San Antonio Opera, Bloody Mary South Pacific with Gulf Coast Symphony, Hedwige William Tell with Opera Southwest, Dame Quickly Falstaff with Winter Opera St. Louis and Opera in the Heights, Marthe Faust with Indianapolis Opera, Third Lady Die Zauberflöte with the Glimmerglass Festival and Austin Lyric Opera and Alisa Lucia di Lammermoor with Winter Opera St. Louis.

Other recent engagements include Handel’s Messiah with DCINY, Ortrud Lohengrin with Opera Southwest, La Zia Principessa Suor Angelica and Zita Gianni Schicchi with St. Petersburg Opera, and Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 with both DCINY and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

On the concert platform recent engagements include Verdi’s Requiem with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, DCINY, and Gulf Coast Symphony, Bruckner’s Te Deum with the Austin Symphony, Mahler’s Symphony No.2 with Florida Orchestra, and Handel’s Messiah with DCINY and Evansville Philharmonic.

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Tiffany Townsend | Katherine

A native of Jackson, Mississippi, soprano Tiffany Townsend recently made her debut as Leontine in LA Opera’s Production of The Anonymous Lover by Joseph Bologne.

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In the 2019/20 season she was seen as Princess Ninette in Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges with Opera Philadelphia and appeared with Long Beach Opera in the Dream Variation concert. She holds a Professional Studies Certificate in Opera from the Curtis Institute of Music, a Master of Music from The Juilliard School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Millsaps College. She was an Emerging Artist with Opera Philadelphia for the 2019/2020 season. She is in her second year as a member of the Young Artist  Program at LA Opera. She was recently named an Encouragement Award Winner in the Tennessee District of the 2020/2021 Metropolitan National Council Auditions.

In 2019, she performed Brenda in Rene Orth’s Empty The House, a co-production with the Curtis Opera Theatre and Opera Philadelphia.

At Millsaps, she was seen as Lucy Lockit in Benjamin Britten’s The Beggar’s Opera and performed Fiordiligi in Cosí fan tutte in scenes.

At Juilliard she covered the role of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. She also performed George Crumb’s Wind’s of Destiny at Alice Tully Hall with The Juilliard Percussion Ensemble. At the Chautauqua Institution, Ms. Townsend performed the First Lady in The Magic Flute.

At Curtis she performed lead roles such as the Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia, Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. She was a winner of the 2019 New Orleans District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She then received an Encouragement Award in the 2019 Gulf Coast Regionals.

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Brian Major | Gary

Charismatic baritone Brian Major continues to be praised by critics for his “velvety voice” and “commanding stage presence.”

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In the fall of 2019, Mr. Major joined Madison Opera for their production of La traviata as Baron Douphol and covering Giorgio Germont. In 2020, Mr. Major returns to Opera Grand Rapids as Ping in Turandot, Toledo Opera as Marcello in La bohème, makes his South American debut as Amonasro in Aida with the Theatro Municipal de Sãn Paulo and was slated to make his Princeton Festival debut as Germont in La traviata. (COVID19) During the 2020-2021 season, Mr. Major was slated to make his Chautauqua Orchestra debut singing Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell’s Sancutary Road as well as selections from Porgy & Bess and his Opera on the James debut as Scarpia in Tosca. In the spring of 2021, Mr. Major will return to Opera Grand Rapids as Gary in Douglas Pew’s Penny and in the spring of 2022, he will sing Ping in Turandot at the same company.

Recently, Mr. Major made debuts with Toledo Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, and Opera Carolina in their productions of The Magic Flute and Carmen where he sang the roles of The Speaker and El Dancaïro.  Other 2018-2019 season highlights included his turn in title role of Gianni Schicchi with Michigan State University Opera Theatre, a recital for the Shivers Concert Series in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a return to Colorado to sing Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with The Colorado College Summer Music Festival.  Mr. Major was also a featured musical guest at an Evening of Joyful Praise at the historic Great Auditorium in New Jersey, and closed out his season as the baritone soloist in Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Boston University Tanglewood Institute.

Past season credits include his debut with Opera Columbus and Columbus Symphony Orchestra in a collaborative production of Aïda as Amonasro.  Mr. Major also presented Kirke Mechem’s Songs of the Slave in Boston Symphony Hall and reprised the role of Amonasro in a debut with Opera Theatre of the Rockies in their twentieth-year celebration where Mr. Major’s voice was described as “honey-filled and capable of organic, dramatic expression.”

Quickly gaining renown for his proficiency in the iconic dramatic repertoire, Opera News praised Mr. Major’s Escamillo as “embracing the love of the spotlight” and “never losing the strength of the vocal line.”  Mr. Major has performed with Opera Saratoga as Giorgio in Catan’s Il Postino, with Opera in the Heights where he gave a “sexy and despicable, full-bodied and broad” performance of the title role in Don Giovanni, with Opera Company of Middlebury where he sang the role of Germont in La traviata, and in Montpellier, France where he performed an all French Opera concert with Maestro Michel Plasson.  Other operatic credits include Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, Marcello in La bohème, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, 1st Nazarene in Salome, and George Milton in Of Mice and Men.

An accomplished recitalist and concert artists, Mr. Major has been the baritone soloist in Orff’s Carmina Burana, Handel’s Messiah, Vaughan-Williams Five Mystical Songs, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.  The majority of these works were performed with The Siena Chamber Orchestra in Italy, Sun Valley Opera in Idaho, Des Moines Symphony Orchestra, and the Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra.  Mr. Major has won numerous awards and honors on the competition circuit, including 2nd Prize Harold Haugh Opera Vocal Competition, 1st prize Opera Ebony Vocal Competition, 3rd prize Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition, 2nd prize Opera at San Nicola Vocal Competition, 1st prize Harlem Opera Theater Vocal Competition, 1st prize Atlanta Music Club Vocal Competition, and Encouragement Prize Palm Beach Atlantic Vocal Competition.  Mr. Major holds degrees from Morehouse College, Boston University, and Michigan State University.

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Samuel Macy | Mr. Shaw

Samuel Macy, bass-baritone, received his Master of Music in Vocal Performance from Western Michigan University and Bachelor of Arts in Music from Valparaiso University.

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He has participated in the American Institute of Musical Studies as well as Antigua y Moderna, where he prepared the role of Achilla in a virtual presentation of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Some of his additional roles include Don Iñigo in Ravel’s L’heure espagnole and Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. This upcoming summer, Samuel is looking forward to joining Opera Steamboat as Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro and Sarastro in Die Zauberflӧte. On the concert stage, he has appeared as a soloist in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra as well as other Bach works including St John PassionChrist lag in Todesbanden, and Ich habe genug. In his spare time, Samuel enjoys reading, swimming, and, like many of his fellow Grand Rapids-natives, trying new craft beers.

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Jadrian Tarver | Raymond

Jadrian Tarver, a native of Haines City, Florida, is a third-year doctoral candidate in Vocal Performance at Michigan State University.

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Prior to his move from Atlanta to East Lansing, he taught middle and high school choral and band ensembles in metropolitan Atlanta and Florida.

He has performed with Atlanta Opera, Peach State Opera, Capitol City Opera Company, and Michigan State University Opera. Operatic roles include Germont in La Traviata, the title role of Gianni Schicchi, Dr. Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro, King Balthazar in Amahl and the Night Visitors, The Bonze in Madama Butterfly, and Marcello in La Boheme. Musical Theater roles include Mr. Lindquist in Little Night Music and the Duke/Dr. Carrasco/Night of Mirrors in Man of La Mancha.

He has taken on a new role with Wharton Center for the Performing Arts and the College of Music. He was jointly appointed as a student leader and project manager of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) to develop relationships across campus, cultivate programming and activities important to Michigan State University students and other stakeholders, incorporate student voices into music programming, and unleash the power of music as an ally of Black Lives Matter, advancing progress in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Mr. Tarver holds the Bachelor of Arts in Music Education from Bethune-Cookman University and the Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Georgia State University.

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David Young | Martin

Tenor David Young is a native of Houston, Texas, and a graduate of DePauw University, where he received a Bachelor’s in Music – Vocal Performance

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His previous roles at DePauw include Il Principe (La belle dormente), Monty Navarro (A Gentleman’s Guide), Prince Charmant (Cendrillon), and Don Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro). Last summer David performed Captain Corcoran (H.M.S. Pinafore), Sir Francis (Where’s Charley), Conrad Birdie (Bye Bye Birdie), George Banks (Mary Poppins), and Sir Roderic (Ruddigore) with the College Light Opera Company. As a 2018 Emerging Artist at Opera in the Ozarks, he sang Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus. In 2019, David won 1st place in the Hal Leonard Vocal Competition and in 2020 he won 1st Place in the Tri-State College Vocal Competition, the Opera Grand Rapids College Vocal Competition, and the Classical Division of NATS Nationals.

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Composer and Librettist

Douglas Pew | Composer

American composer Douglas Pew (b. 1980) is noted for his ability to strike at the root of the emotional world through his music “with a showman’s touch and a poet’s soul, letting it take flight” (Jake Heggie, Moby Dick).

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His music has been heralded as “stunning…magical” (Washington Times) and “sensual, other-worldly, expressive and showcasing a rich harmonic pallet, sure to connect with audiences, while saying something fresh, profound and meaningful” (The Pianist’s Craft Vol. 2).

His 1-hour chamber opera ‘Penny’ premiered by Washington National Opera at the John F. Kennedy Center to wide acclaim. “Penny simply works, not because we should like it, but because it has a story to tell. The different levels of musical characterization were far more than merely evocative, and they succeeded on a dramatic as well as a musical level” (Washington Post).

Douglas has received multiple awards including a Barlow Endowment commission, 1st prize in the 2009 SCI/ASCAP Student Composers Commission Competition, Musica Sacra International Choral Composition Competition in Poland, ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Award, Susan and For Schumann Fellowship at the Aspen Music Festival, and the Tangeman Sacred Music Center.

Douglas holds Masters and Doctoral degrees from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of music as well as a post-graduate certificate from the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, Poland where he studied with internationally revered composer Paweł Łukaszewski under the auspices of a Fulbright Grant. Douglas currently serves as composer-in-residence at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Cincinnati, OH and is active as a conductor, vocalist, author, and entrepreneur. His music is published by Boosey & Haweks, Schott Music, Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Jackman Music Corporation, and his own publishing house, Blue Shore Music.

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Dara Weinberg | Librettist

Dara Weinberg (librettist) With composer Douglas Pew, she has written libretti for “A Game of Hearts” (American Opera Initiative/Washington National Opera, Opera America, NANOWorks (Cincinnati) and “Penny” (AOI/WNO, Opera Grand Rapids).

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With composer Faye Chiao, she wrote the lyrics for the song cycle “To See the Stars,” for the Lunar Ensemble at the Maryland Science Center Davis Planetarium, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. She is one of the co-founders of two experimental American theatre collectives: the Indy Convergence, in Indianapolis, and the Parallel Octave Chorus, in Baltimore. Her plays include “W Tym Mieście//In This City,” a documentary theatre piece written by, for, and about the Jews living in Poland today (JCC Kraków), “Pętla//The End of the Line,” and “Umrzeć w Atenach//To Die in Athens.” She has received two Fulbright grants to study Polish theatre. She holds a PhD from Bath Spa University in creative writing; her dissertation was a memoir about her experiences living in Poland and investigating the tradition of Polish choral theatre. As a singer, with Teatr Chorea, in Łódź, she has performed in the choir for the touring productions of Gilgamesz and Bachantki (The Bacchae), with music by Tomasz Krzyżanowski. She was born in Los Angeles, teaches high school English, and is an associate member of Theatre of NOTE.

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