American Apollo

  • Saturday JULY 13 8:30 PM
  • Thursday JULY 18 7:30 PM
  • Friday JULY 19 1:00 PM

American Apollo

Damien Geter and Lila Palmer's American Apollo gives voice to a pivotal figure in American art: Thomas Eugene McKeller, a Black hotel worker who served as model and muse for famous portraitist John Singer Sargent. As a work of historical fiction, the opera imagines the story behind Sargent’s spare, nude portrait and sensual sketches of McKeller, whose image was transformed by Sargent into white-skinned Greek gods featured prominently in murals throughout Boston's Musuem of Fine Arts. Themes of erasure, the white gaze and the intimate relationship between the two men are explored in this powerful new work. Read the synopsis >

This world premiere opera features baritone Justin Austin as Thomas Eugene McKeller, tenor William Burden making a company debut as John Singer Sargent, soprano Mary Dunleavy as Isabella Stewart Gardner, and DMMO Marshall and Judy Flapan Music Director and Principal Conductor David Neely leading the production alongside stage director Shaun Patrick Tubbs, who makes his company debut.


July 13 at 8:30pm - SOLD OUT
July 18 at 7:30pm - SOLD OUT
July 19 at 1pm

July 13 at 3:30pm - The Mysterious Apollo lecture
July 13 at 7:00pm - Expanded American Apollo Prelude Talk

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Damien Geter

Lila Palmer

July 13, 2024
Des Moines Metro Opera

English (with English supertitles)

2 hours, 30 minutes with one 20-minute intermission



The Artists

Justin Austin Thomas Eugene McKeller
William Burden John Singer Sargent
Mary Dunleavy Isabella Stewart Gardner
Tesia Kwarteng Ida Mae McDonald
Alex McKissick Nicola d'Inverno
Kendra Faith Beasley Florence McKeller/Mrs. Smithson
Daniel Rich Willie McDonald
Shyheim Selvan Hinnant Clarence/Master of Ceremonies
Isaiah Traylor George
Antonio Domino Walter
Robert Frazier Jimmy O'Donnelly/Mr. Carhart
Hayden Smith Mr. Sparhawk
Damien Geter Composer
Lila Palmer Librettist
Kate Pitt Dramaturg
David Neely Conductor
Shaun Patrick Tubbs Director
Steven C. Kemp Scenic Designer
Jacob A. Climer Costume Designer
Bridget S. Williams Lighting Designer
David Murakami Projection Designer
Brittany V.A. Rappise Wig and Makeup Designer
Leah Tubbs Movement Director
Stephanie Schneider Intimacy Coordinator

The Creators

Damien Geter, composer

Damien Geter is an acclaimed composer who infuses classical music with various styles from the Black diaspora to create music that furthers the cause for social justice, as well as a celebrated bass-baritone – “amazing to listen to. Possessed of a rolling, resonant voice even at the lowest register” (Northwest Reverb) – whose varied credits include performances from the operatic stage to the television screen. He is Composer-in-Residence at the Richmond Symphony through the 2024-25 season, and serves as Interim Music Director and Artistic Advisor at Portland Opera, as well as the Artistic Advisor for Resonance Ensemble.

Geter’s rapidly growing body of work includes chamber, vocal, orchestral, and full operatic works, with his compositions being praised for their “Skillful vocal writing” (Wall Street Journal). In the 2023-2024 season, Des Moines Metro Opera presents the full-length world premiere of his opera, American Apollo, while Virginia Opera holds a workshop of Loving v. Virginia, a new major work co-commissioned by Virginia Opera and the Richmond Symphony which will premiere as part of Virginia Opera’s 50th Anniversary Season in May 2025. Geter’s Annunciation is featured on Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert Montgomery and the Blacknificent 7, and Richmond Symphony will premiere a brand new work to be conducted by Music Director Valentina Peleggi. His song cycle COTTON, commissioned by Lyric Fest, will see its New York premiere at the 92nd Street Y, starring Denyce Graves and Justin Austin. Additionally, The Recording Inclusivity Initiative records String Quartet No. 1 “Neo-Soul”.

Read Damien's full bio >

Read Damien's composer notes >

Lila Palmer, librettist

Lila Palmer is a librettist whose warmth, clarity, and stylistic flexibility have made her a favoured partner of established and emerging composers alike. An advanced vocal performer herself, Lila’s skill in advocating for and writing to the classically trained voice has enabled her to bridge the gap between the world of interpreter and creative. She is proud to be the only dual graduate of both the Royal Opera House London - Guildhall Opera Makers MA program and American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program.

Upcoming performances of Palmer’s work include The Fox Sisters, with Marc Migo for Teatro Liceu in Barcelona; In Her Own Valley, with Grace Mason for Liverpool Philharmonic; and American Apollo, with Damien Geter for Des Moines Metro Opera. Holy Ground, also with Geter, will be excerpted as part of the Guggenheim’s Works & Process before receiving its world premiere at the Glimmerglass Festival. Lila’s song cycle for soprano Golda Schultz, This Be Her Verse, is out on Alpha Classics, and has been hailed by Opera News as “a new repertoire staple.” The cycle will receive national premieres in Canada, Scotland, Switzerland, and France, where Lila will also attend the 2022 Aix-En-Provence Women’s Opera Lab.

Read Lila's full bio >

Additional Learning