American Apollo

  • Wednesday JULY 20 7:30 PM
  • Thursday JULY 21 2:00 PM
  • Saturday JULY 23 2:00 PM

American Apollo

Leadership funding provided by Harry Bookey and Pamela Bass-Bookey

American Apollo is a new opera based on a story forged at the crossroad of celebrity, class, race, and power in America, giving voice to a pivotal figure in American art: Thomas Eugene McKeller, a Black model who served as inspiration for the famous portraitist, John Singer Sargent. McKeller posed for most of the figures in Sargent's murals at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, but the painter transformed McKeller's figure into white gods and goddesses, creating soaring allegories of the liberal arts that celebrated the recent expansion of the city's premier civic museum. Themes of erasure, the white gaze, and the nature of the relationship between the two men are explored in this powerful new work.

With special contributions from Sargent scholar Nathaniel Silver and drawing on the recent Gardner Museum exhibition Boston's Apollo, this tale of individual courage and breathtaking vulnerability peels the varnish off venerable historical figures to reveal the beating heart and simmering desire beneath Sargent's only uncommissioned monumental male nude. A short performance, discussion, and lecture with Gardner curator Dr. Nathaniel Silver will be presented in July 2022 in collaboration with the Des Moines Art Center and Pyramid Theatre.


Damien Geter

Lila Palmer

April 2022
Washington National Opera

English (with English subtitles)


The Artists

Justin Austin Thomas McKeller
Thomas Glenn John Singer Sargent
Mary Dunleavy Isabella Stewart Gardner
David Neely Conductor
Kimille Howard Director
David Murakami Video/Projections Design
Harry Nadal Costume Design

The Creators

Damien Geter, Composer

Damien Geter infuses classical music with various styles from the Black diaspora to create music that furthers the cause for social justice. In 2022, Geter has six premieres. His large work, An African American Requiem,  premiered in Spring 2022 in partnership with Resonance Ensemble and the Oregon Symphony with subsequent performances at the Kennedy Center.  I Said What I Said for Imani Winds, co-commissioned by Anima Mundi Productions, Chamber Music Northwest, and The Oregon Bach Festival, will premiere in 2022 as well, in addition to his one-act opera Holy Ground for Glimmerglass Opera in July 2022. Also premiering in July 2022, is his piece Elegy for American Guild of Organists, his piece The Bronze Legacy for Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the chamber version of American Apollo for Des Moines Metro Opera. Future commissions include premieres at Seattle Opera and Emmanuel Music, and World Premiere full operatic productions in 2024, 2025, and 2026 at Des Moines Metro Opera, Seattle Opera, Virginia Opera, InSeries Opera, and Portland Opera.

Also an operatic bass-baritone, Geter made his Metropolitan Opera debut in the Grammy award-winning production of Porgy and Bess as the Undertaker.  This season, Geter will sing the title role of Quamino in the World Premiere of Errollyn Wallen’s Quamino’s Map with Chicago Opera Theatre, Angelotti in Tosca with Portland Opera, Sam in Reno Symphony’s Voices of a Nation: Trouble in Tahiti, William Still in Sanctuary Road with the Oakland Symphony, and the bass soloist in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for the Richmond Symphony.  Future engagements include Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden with Hawaii Opera Theatre and a Holiday Favorites concert with Symphony Tacoma.

Learn more >

Lila Palmer, Librettist

Lila Palmer is a librettist. Upcoming performances in 2022 include the pandemic rescheduled In Her Own Valley, with Grace Mason (Liverpool Philharmonic); Holy Ground with Damien Geter for Glimmerglass Opera and the live performance premier of the short chamber American Apollo for Des Moines Metro Opera. Lila’s song cycle for soprano Golda Schultz, This Be Her Verse  is out on Alpha Classics and touring Europe; hailed as ‘a new repertoire staple’ (Opera News). Lila will attend the 2022 Aix-En-Provence Women’s Opera Lab. Future works coming in 2023 & 2024 include her children’s opera with Clarice Assad, The Selfish Giant (Opera Saratoga); Shell Shaker with Jerod Impichchaachaaha Tate; Splintered, a choose-your-own-adventure Nutcracker fantasia with Jorge Sosa & Justine Chen and the extended commission full length American Apollo. Lila is an alumnus of ALT’s CLDP, where she is Associate Director for Partnerships & Promotions following a year as Interim Managing Director. As well as supporting Artist Development at ALT, she serves as Artist Leader/Dramaturgy Mentor  in new works development for Boston Opera Collaborative and Loose Tea Music Theater, Canada.

Learn more >