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August 10, 2020

Tazewell Thompson is named Director of Opera Studies at Manhattan School of Music

News Release

The internationally acclaimed opera and theatre director, playwright, librettist, actor, and educator takes the reins of the prestigious music conservatory’s respected opera program

NEW YORK, August 10, 2020 – Renowned international music conservatory Manhattan School of Music (MSM) announced today that acclaimed opera and theatre director Tazewell Thompson will join the School’s Vocal Arts Division as Director of Opera Studies, effective immediately.

Mr. Thompson is a widely respected opera and theatre artist whose successful career as a director is part of an expansive palette that also includes his work as a playwright, librettist, educator, and actor. In his role at MSM, he will lead, with his fellow faculty colleagues, the development of a cohesive vision for the Opera Studies program. Mr. Thompson’s cornerstone of valuing the educational process within a conservatory setting will guide new curricular and artistic opportunities to support classical voice students as they hone their craft, while creating opportunities for them to explore their artistry in the context of an inclusive and nurturing environment. In addition to setting the vision and curricular elements of this key area within Vocal Arts, Mr. Thompson will also help shape performance opportunities for the School’s graduate voice students and teach and direct the Senior Opera Theatre program.

MSM’s opera program has a long history of acclaim, having been hailed over the years by The New York Times, Opera News, and The New Yorker, among many other publications. The School’s voice department counts among its many high-profile alumni Susan Graham, J’Nai Bridges, Soloman Howard, Nicholas Phan, Sol Jin, Dolora Zajick, Shuler Hensley, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Dawn Upshaw, Simon O’Neill, Yunpeng Wang, and Lauren Flanigan.

“I’m honored and delighted to have been chosen as Director of Opera Studies at Manhattan School of Music, a storied institution focusing a profound sense of soulful enrichment through the art of music,” said Mr. Thompson in a statement. “Teaching is the most noble of professions, and I look forward with excitement to joining a distinguished roster of MSM colleagues in collaborative contribution, expanding for students the varied possibilities of a career in opera.”

Mr. Thompson has more than 150 directing credits, including 30 world and American premieres in major opera houses and theatres across the US, Europe, Africa, Japan, and Canada, including such prestigious opera stages as Glimmerglass, New York City Opera, Teatro Real, La Scala, L’Opera Bastille, and San Francisco Opera. His opera, Blue, written with composer Jeanine Tesori, won the 2020 MCANNA Award for Best New Opera in North America, and The New York Times named Blue on its list of Best in Classical Music of 2019. His production of Porgy and Bess, broadcast on the PBS program, Live from Lincoln Center, received EMMY Award nominations in the categories of Best Director and Best Production: Classical Music.

“We are delighted that Tazewell will be joining MSM to lead the School’s Opera Studies program,” said MSM President James Gandre. “His wide-ranging artistic experience and unique perspective on the art form will not only contribute to the program’s artistic continuity but will also add an important leadership role in defining a new vision for opera at MSM.”

Born and raised in Harlem, New York City, Mr. Thompson has worked to attract new audiences to the theatre and help theatregoers to “understand America in its many racial and cultural dimensions” (Time magazine). Zelda Fichandler, the late founder and producing director of Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, told The Washington Post, “[Tazewell’s] multiculturalism doesn’t come from current lingo, it comes from the deep human base on which he operates.”

“I pledged myself a long time ago to help in repairing the world through what I am capable of giving and sharing from the best part of me,” said Mr. Thompson. “I dedicate myself to behave in a manner that honors those who have sacrificed so much, including their lives, so I may have the opportunity to lead and serve concurrently. I urge MSM to take full advantage of my fervent need and deeply felt responsibility to give back to the two professions I love and respect so much: opera and teaching.”

Central to Mr. Thompson’s work at MSM will be his leadership in shaping a future of artistic training at MSM that is responsive to our current societal challenges and provides students the opportunity for exploring new performance paradigms. Building on MSM’s legacy for artistic innovation, Mr. Thompson and faculty colleagues will create a curriculum for classical singers that sharpens their artistic preparation and readiness to enter a profession that has been profoundly changed by current and recent events.

“Tazewell’s dedication for teaching young artists to reach beyond what they imagine is possible will foster a rich, creative environment for our Manhattan School of Music students,” said MSM Executive Vice President and Provost Joyce Griggs. “As a role model, his experiences, vision, and passion for using the arts to evoke and improve humanity are perfectly aligned with the School’s mission and our responsibility to cultivate the next generation of socially minded and civically engaged artists. I am thrilled that Tazewell is joining Manhattan School of Music as we build a bold new vision for its opera studies program. We find ourselves at a pivotal time in the performing arts and education; under Tazewell’s leadership, the future of opera at MSM is assured.”


TAZEWELL THOMPSON ( is an internationally acclaimed opera and theatre director, award-winning playwright, librettist, teacher, and actor. His opera, Blue, with composer Jeanine Tesori, won the 2020 MCANNA Award for Best New Opera in North America. The New York Times listed Blue on its 2019 Best in Classical Music list. He has more than 150 directing credits, including 30 world and American premieres, in major opera houses and theatres across the USA, France, Spain, Italy, Africa, Japan, and Canada, including The Glimmerglass Festival, New York City Opera, Teatro Real, La Scala, L’Opera Bastille, Cape Town, Tokyo, Vancouver and San Francisco Opera. His award-winning play, Constant Star, has had 16 national productions, garnering 9 Barrymore Awards, 5 NAACP Awards, and 3 Carbonell Awards. Mary T & Lizzy K, which Mr. Thompson wrote and directed, was commissioned and produced at Arena Stage and was the recipient of The Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award. He is the author of Jam & Spice: The Music of Kurt Weill, an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and a contributing writer to Our War, short plays for Arena Stage. His a cappella musical, Jubilee: Fisk Jubilee Singers, had its world premiere in spring 2019 and played to SRO audiences, also at Arena Stage. He has play commissions from Lincoln Center Theater, South Coast Rep, and People’s Light and Theatre Company. His production of Porgy and Bess, broadcast on PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center, received EMMY Award nominations for Best Director and Best Production: Classical Music. Mr. Thompson holds the record for directing three productions – Appomattox by Philip Glass, Lost in the Stars by Kurt Weill, and his American premiere production from Glimmerglass Festival of Cato in Utica by Vivaldi – all in the same season in three different theatres at The Kennedy Center. He was chosen to rewrite the libretto and direct the premiere staging of Aaron Copland’s The Second Hurricane as part of a New York State-wide celebration of Copland’s 85th birthday, and he is currently commissioned by Seattle Opera to write a song cycle. Blue is rescheduled for future productions at Washington National Opera, Chicago Lyric, Minnesota Opera, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. At schools and conservatories, Mr. Thompson has directed productions and held master classes for NYU, Juilliard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, Tulane, Indiana/Bloomington, and Kansas/Lawrence.


Recognized as one of the foremost opera training programs in the world, Manhattan School of Music’s opera program attracts some of the most talented young singers from the United States and more than 40 other countries. Students refine their technique and develop their artistry under the guidance of a faculty of eminent artist-teachers while gaining exposure before New York City audiences.

The program is internationally known for its excellence. Among the program’s offerings every year are two fully staged productions, which span the classical and contemporary repertoire. Praised by the New York Times for its significant contribution to operatic life in New York, Manhattan School of Music has a long and proud tradition of producing some of the finest artists singing throughout the world today.


Founded as a settlement music school by Janet Daniels Schenck in 1918, today Manhattan School of Music is recognized for its more than 950 superbly talented undergraduate and graduate students who come from more than 50 countries and nearly all 50 states; a world-renowned artist-teacher faculty; and innovative curricula. The School is dedicated to the personal, artistic, and intellectual development of aspiring musicians, from its Precollege students through those pursuing postgraduate studies.

Offering classical, jazz, and musical theatre training, MSM grants Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees, as well as the Professional Studies Certificate and Artist Diploma. Additionally, true to MSM’s origins as a music school for children, the Precollege program continues to offer superior music instruction to young musicians between the ages of five and 18. The School also serves some 2,000 New York City schoolchildren through its Arts-in-Education Program, and another 2,000 students through its critically acclaimed Distance Learning Program.

For further information, please contact Jeff Breithaupt, Vice President for Media and Communications, at or (917) 493-4702.

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