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Missy Mazzoli

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Proving Up (2017)
Co-commissioned by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha, and Miller Theatre at Columbia University
Work Notes
Based on the short story by Karen Russell
Text Writer
Royce Vavrek
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Year Composed
1 Hour 10 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
6 Principals
Programme Note
Missy Mazzoli Proving Up (2017)
Proving Up is an opera about the American Dream, told through the story of Nebraskan homesteaders in the 1870s. A family dreams of "proving up" and obtaining the deed to the land they've settled. They obsessively list the requirements of the Homestead Act: five years of harvest, a sod house dwelling, and perhaps the most elusive element — a glass window. With their eldest son incapacitated, Ma and Pa Zegner send their youngest living child Miles on a mission to share the valuable commodity with their distant neighbors who are expecting a visit from a government inspector. Miles mounts his gray mare with the window wrapped in burlap and gallops across the land. The elements, natural and otherwise, have other plans, and Miles comes face to face with a strange man who turns out to be the ghost of a neighboring farmer, driven mad by the requirements of "proving up." The willowy figure knows all too well the cost of the American Dream, and the window soon becomes a broken mirror reflecting great tragedy.

Full score


  • 02 OCT 2020
    Minnsky Theatre / Minneapolis, MN / USA
    Brian Dowdy, conductor

    Other Dates:
    3,4 October - Minnsky Theatre / Minneapolis, MN / USA

The New York Times Best Classical Music in 2018: Brooding on the impossibility of the American dream, Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s tense, creepy new opera, which came to the Miller Theater at Columbia University in September, shows the fracturing of a homestead family suffering on the brutal Nebraska plains. The setting is the middle of the 19th century, but the lessons — about prosperity, virility, patriotism and cycles of violence — are crushingly contemporary. And Ms. Mazzoli’s score, for just a dozen or so players, is a landscape of shimmering aridity.
Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times,05/12/2018
This weekend a new opera, Proving Up, proved itself indeed — a chamber opera worthy for the 21st century. Born out of a spirit of inquiry, Proving Up is mysterious, mesmerizing, startling in moments, and highly atmospheric.
Susan Galbraith, DC Theatre Scene,22/01/2018
Out of a literal perforation in the horizon of the Nebraskan prairie emerges Proving Up, the most convincing case I have ever seen for modern American opera; the medium has been fitted to our sensibilities, using our sonic mediums and poetically and musically evoking our soundscape, and telling a uniquely American story by two of the most persuasive voices in American new opera.

Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s new work, the opening act of Washington National Opera's "American Opera Initiative Festival" and without a doubt the best thing it's done all year, is a small marvel.
Harry Rose, Parterre Box,22/01/2018
…the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater was electrified with excitement for their newest work.
Molly Simoneau, Schmopera,21/01/2018
As powerful as it is bleak, it cannot leave audiences cold: You may hate it, or you may love it, but you will definitely have some reaction.…

Mazzoli, certainly and happily, continues to show herself a natural opera composer: Her music responds keenly to the story's time and place as well as to its characters' respective journeys…

Mazzoli's vocal writing, too, is admirable, allowing the words to be clearly expressed and showing off singers…

It's a work for its time: Its subject, at bottom, is the promises politicians make to the American people, and the staggering human cost to those who don’t realize that their efforts go against their own self-interest. Hard to watch on stage, yes, but even harder to live.
Anne Midgette, Washington Post,21/01/2018
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