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

“An artist of many talents. His operatic bass has carried him to performances on some of the greatest stages. However, it has been in recent years that his vast gifts for composing have come into just as much prominence.” — Patrick D. McCoy, LA Opera

Damien infuses classical music with various styles from the black diaspora to create music that furthers the cause for social justice.

Damien’s growing body of work includes chamber, vocal, and orchestral works. Some recent commissions include: Cantata for a Hopeful Tomorrow for The Washington Chorus, Invisible for Opera Theater Oregon, The Justice Symphony for the University of Michigan, and String Quartet No. 1, Neo-Soul for All Classical Portland and On-Site Opera. His large work, An African American Requiem, will premiere in Spring 2022 in partnership with Resonance Ensemble and the Oregon Symphony.

The book he co-authored, Music in Context: An Examination of Western European Music Through a Sociopolitical Lens is available on Amazon, or directly from the publisher, Kendall Hunt.

Damien currently serves as the Artistic Advisor for Resonance Ensemble and Portland Opera. He is the owner of DG Music, Sans Fear Publishing.

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Lila Palmer, Librettist

Lila Palmer is a librettist whose warmth, clarity and stylistic flexibility have made her a favored 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 the proud (and only dual graduate) of both the Royal Opera House London - Guildhall Opera Makers MA program (London, UK) and American Lyric Theatre’s Composer Librettist Development Program. 

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