Events | Opera & Democracy: Listening to Exile

New York | April 16, 2024 – April 20, 2024

Join Thomas Mann House, 1014 - Space for Ideas, Austrian Cultural Forum New York, Goethe-Institut New York, and the Leo Baeck Institute - New York | Berlin for four exciting days of concerts and talks as part of the transatlantic series on Opera & Democracy, by musicologist and 2023 Thomas Mann Fellow Kai Hinrich Müller and the Thomas Mann House. Freedom of the arts is essential for any democracy, but what role do the arts play when democracies come under pressure? The program in New York will indulge in the works and stories of composers who went into exile, sharing their music and asking how democracies and the arts relate today.

This series commemorates the centenary of the reopening of Berlin's legendary Krolloper in 1924, one of the leading opera houses of the interwar period and today a symbol of both the renewal of opera in the 20th century and the struggle for democratic values in times of crisis. To honor this anniversary, panel discussions with international scholars and artists will explore the multifaceted history of this important institution and delve into the complex relationship between opera and democracy today. The focus will be on the democratic potential of opera and its possible contributions to a diverse and inclusive society. Topics range from aspects of the democratization of opera to questions of power and representation, new formats, casting and programming policies, audience expectations as well as to academic challenges, and opera's ability to amplify the voices of silenced or persecuted artists. Each conversation will be accompanied by concerts, sometimes world premieres, that present excerpts from rarely performed stage works, among them works by persecuted artists discovered in archives.

Click on the programs to read more about the events and please register for each event individually.

Apr 16 | Opening Talks & Reception: Opera in Exile

: 6:30 p.m. (EST)
Location: Goethe-Institut New York, 30 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003

Welcome & Keynote: Opera and Democracy by Kai Hinrich Müller followed by a conversation about the past and present of being forced out of a country or a home and the struggles to continue artistic practices elsewhere.


Brigid Cohen, Associate Professor of Music at New York University. She has taught and published on the politics of 20th-century avant-gardes, archive studies, diaspora and cosmopolitanism theory, 20th-century German-Jewish thought, histories of genocide, and intersections of music, literature, and the visual arts. Her second monograph, Musical Migration and Imperial New York: Early Cold War Scenes, was published by University of Chicago Press in April 2022.

Gracie Golden is Artistic Freedom Initiative’s Senior Officer for Strategic Initiatives & Relocation, providing resettlement support across programs. She has dedicated her career to the intersection of art, cultural heritage, and human rights. Led by immigration and human rights attorneys, Artistic Freedom Initiative facilitates pro bono immigration representation and resettlement assistance for international artists at risk.

Michael P. Steinberg, Brown University, Barnaby Conrad and Mary Critchfield Keeney Professor of History and Music, Professor of German Studies, author of  The Afterlife of Moses: Exile, Democracy, Renewal


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Apr 17 | Concert I

: 7:30 p.m. (EST)
Location: Center for Jewish History, Leo Baeck Institute New York, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

The concert introduces two German-Jewish composers in American exile: Paul Aron and Rosy Geiger-Kullmann. Aron, a protagonist of the German interwar avant-garde, founded an opera company in New York in the 1950s to popularize the works of émigrés such as Darius Milhaud, Kurt Weill, Tadeusz Kassern, and Ernst Toch through piano arrangements and English translations. One of these - his English version of Toch’s short opera Egon & Emilie - will be presented alongside exile songs by Aron. Geiger-Kullmann, a successful opera composer of the Weimar Republic, was born in Frankfurt and fled from the Nazis to New York and later to Monterey. Excerpts from her opera Columbus, written after her arrival in New York, and two stage works from her years in Germany have been reconstructed and will be performed in excerpts – a world premiere.


Rosy Geiger-Kullmann: Excerpts from Ritter Lanzelot, Emanuela and Columbus (World Premiere)

Paul Aron: Zwei Lieder nach Gedichten von Christian Morgenstern, No 1. Es ist Nacht, January 26, 1950; In Memoriam … Three Songs (William Butler Yeats), No. 2. To Judd. Had I the Heaven’s, August 24, 1947; Vier Herbstlieder (Herman Hesse), No. 1. Der stille Hain, August 10, 1937, revised: July 29, 1947, No. 4. Ich habe nichts mehr zu sagen, August 7, 1947 (World Premiere)

Ernst Toch (arr. Paul Aron): Edgar & Emily

Moderation: Kai Hinrich Müller (Thomas Mann House, Los Angeles)

Musicians: Manhattan School of Music


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Apr 18 | Concert II

: 6:30 p.m. (EST)
Location: Austrian Cultural Forum, 11 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

Ruth Schonthal and Erich Zeisl will be presented in a concert at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York: Schonthal, who would have celebrated her 100th birthday in 2024, became an important figure in the New York music scene. She composed several operas, including Princess Maleen, which will be heard in part. Zeisl, on the other hand, lived mainly on the West Coast, where he worked for the film and various educational institutions. Excerpts from his opera fragment Hiob, based on the famous novel by Joseph Roth, will be performed next to Schonthal. Both works are largely unknown today, as are the biographies of their authors.


Ruth Schonthal: Princess Maleen (Excerpts)

Erich Zeisl: Hiob (Excerpts)

Musicians: Manhattan School of Music

Introduction: Kai Hinrich Müller (Thomas Mann House, Los Angeles)


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Apr 20 | Dance and Finnissage

Begin: 3:00 p.m. (EST) (doors open 2:30 p.m.)
Location: 1014 - space for ideas, 1014 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028

This concert and dance performance by Miro Magloire’s New Chamber Ballet takes a leap from mid-century composers into the present. The performance starts with two dances set to music by Ursula Mamlok, who fled Germany for Ecuador in 1939 and then moved on to study in New York City in 1940. Once in the US, she became one of her generation's most renowned composers and wrote music in various genres and styles. After a conversation about the role and personal meaning of migration for their arts with German-born choreographer Miro Magloire and composer Alyssa Regent, who hails from Guadeloupe, the performance continues with music of one of Ursula Mamloks students: Pulitzer Prize winner Tania León who was born in Cuba and left in 1967 for New York. The afternoon concludes with a World Premiere ballet set to music by Alyssa Regent.


Dance by New Chamber Ballet, Choreography by Miro Magloire, performed by Anabel Alpert, Megan Foley, Nicole McGinnis, Amber Neff, Rachele Perla, Kayla Schmitt.

Music composed by Ursula Mamlok, Tania León, and Alyssa Regent, performed by Weiyu Wang, soprano; Rea Abel, flute; Clara Cho, cello.

Conversation moderated by Carl Christian Bettendorf


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Ellie Pope, soprano

Benjamin Warschawski, tenor

Benjamin Sokol, baritone

Weiyu Wang, soprano

Elliot Roman, piano

Rea Abel, flute

Clara Cho, cello


Anabel Alpert

Megan Foley

Nicole McGinnis

Amber Neff

Rachele Perla

Kayla Schmitt

Carl Christian Bettendorf

Carl Christian Bettendorf is a New York-based composer/conductor. Born in Germany, his teachers included Wolfgang Rihm and Tristan Murail, and he holds a doctorate from Columbia University. Currently, he serves on the composition faculty of Rowan University (NJ). He has received numerous awards, among them residencies in Paris, Bamberg (Germany), and at MacDowell as well as Fromm Foundation and Kaminsky Fund commissions. As a conductor, Mr. Bettendorf has worked with new-music ensembles in New York and abroad and was director of the Manhattanville and Bates College orchestras. His opera credits include Bard College and the Opéra National de Montpellier (France).

Brigid Cohen

Brigid Cohen is a historical musicologist who specializes in the historiography of musics and musicians in migration. Her research and teaching examine the mass dislocation of peoples over the last two centuries, addressing conditions of empire, globalization, genocide, exile, and minoritized citizenship. This intellectual program stems from her conviction that music assumes special value under the pressure of conditions of uprooting. Music serves as a mode of self-fashioning, secures new (and old) community bonds, and brings individuals together in listening, speech, and action. It also interacts in variegated ways with the silences that emerge from troubled sites of memory.

Gracie Golden

Gracie Golden serves as Artistic Freedom Initiative’s Senior Officer of Strategic Initiatives & Relocation, providing resettlement support across programs. She has dedicated her career to the intersection of art, cultural heritage, and human rights. Ms. Golden has six years’ experience coordinating initiatives for the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center, and has contributed to research and curatorial projects at the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative. Prior to joining AFI, Ms. Golden received an MA in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds a BA in anthropology and the history of art from Johns Hopkins University.

Tania Léon (tbc)

Tania León (b. Havana, Cuba) is highly regarded as a composer, conductor, educator, and advisor to arts organizations. Her orchestral work Stride, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music. In 2022, she was named a recipient of the 45th Annual Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements. In 2023, she was awarded the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University. Most recently, León became the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s next Composer-in-Residence—a post she will hold for two seasons, beginning in September 2023. She will also hold Carnegie Hall’s Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair for its 2023-2024 season.

Kai Hinrich Müller

Kai Hinrich Müller is one of the emerging festival makers at the intersection of scholarship and practice. His work fosters cultural dialogues across continents and connects him with renowned institutions in Europe and the United States. He is the director of the bahaus music festival in Berlin and the Terezín Music Academy in the former ghetto of Theresienstadt, an initiative of Music Non Grata, for which he has curated numerous programs on artists persecuted by the Nazis. He has held several fellowships in Germany and the US, most recently at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles, where he initiated the transatlantic festival series Opera & Democracy. Kai studied musicology, law, and business administration (PhD 2013; habilitation 2022) and teaches at the Cologne University of Music and Dance. His current research interests include Richard Wagner and the Bayreuth Circle, antisemitism in music history, musical life in the interwar and Nazi years, the ensuing period of exile in North America, as well as transatlantic opera traditions.

Alyssa Regent

Alyssa Regent is a New York-based composer originally from the islands of Guadeloupe. She has participated in several music festivals and programs such as the 77th Composer’s Conference, String Quartet Evolution at the Banff Center (Canada), New Music on the Point and the Lucerne Music Festival (Switzerland). In 2023, she was awarded the Ascap Morton Gould Young Composer Award. She studied composition with Suzanne Farrin, David Fulmer, Marcos Balter and George Lewis and is currently pursuing a DMA at Columbia University. She is inspired by what she calls “the unseen”, seeking to evoke passions and sensations that are deeply rooted in introspection. She harvests from the ethereal, the enigmatic intersections between music and spirituality. She loves to think about music as an exploration of the spiritual and emotional dimensions of the human experience.

Michael P. Steinberg

Michael P. Steinberg is the Barnaby Conrad and Mary Critchfield Keeney Professor of History, and Professor of Music and German Studies at Brown University. From 2016 to 2018 he served as president of the American Academy in Berlin. At Brown he served as the founding director of the Cogut Center for the Humanities (2005-2015) and as Vice Provost for the Arts (2015-16). His books include The Trouble with Wagner (Chicago, 2018) as well as the edited volume Makers of Jewish Modernity (Princeton, 2016; winner of the National Jewish Book Award for non-fiction); Listening to Reason: Culture, Music, and Subjectivity in 19th-Century Music (Princeton, 2004), and The Meaning of the Salzburg Festival (Cornell, 2000), of which the German edition (Ursprung und Ideologie der Salzburger Festspiele; Anton Pustet Verlag, 2000) won Austria's Victor Adler Staatspreis in 2001.


Opera & Democracy: Listening to Exile is a festival co-hosted by 1014-Space for Ideas, Austrian Cultural Forum New York, Goethe-Institut New York, and Leo Baeck Institute - New York | Berlin


The series is initiated by the Thomas Mann House and curated by musicologist and 2023 Thomas Mann Fellow
Kai Hinrich Müller.

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