Mormon Artists Group is pleased to announce the publication of

Mormons at the Met

by Glen Nelson

illustrations by Annie Poon

    During the 2011-2012 season at the Metropolitan Opera, six LDS singers were engaged to perform principal roles. This is an unparalleled, historic achievement in our culture, a true Mormon moment. Author Glen Nelson is an opera fan and librettist, and Mormons at the Met is his intimate chronicle of a year at the opera house. Nelson set out to write about the season by: attending all eight of the operas with LDS singers in them, following the Met through the media, researching the history of Mormon singers and composers at the Metropolitan, exploring what “Mormon opera” might mean to those inside and outside the Church, uncovering stories of singers’ conversions to the gospel, discussing the effects on the family of a career in opera, examining the Met’s finances, union contracts, and leadership, and—how could he not?—by telling stories of the Met’s outsize egos, vast ambitions, missteps and dumb luck.

    Along the way, the author experienced operas written about Mormons, operas composed by Mormons, and operas performed with Mormons in principal roles. Ultimately, the 450-page book aims to answer a straightforward question: what is it like to be a Mormon in the seats of the Metropolitan audience for a season?


From the Introduction:

    I sat in the audience of the Metropolitan Opera in New City on the night of January 5, 1996, and I watched the tenor Richard Versalle fall to his death onstage. The performance had just begun when he died. It was the Met premiere of Leoš Janáček’s The Makropulos Case, an opera about a woman named Emilia Marty who is given a potion to extend life 300 years. Nothing appeared amiss as Versalle sang the line, “Too bad you can live only so long.” He then fell backwards off the ladder, and he landed on his back, with his head crashing against the stage floor. In my section of the audience, none of us had ever seen this opera, and we weren’t entirely sure the fall was unscripted. We just sat and waited. The orchestra continued playing briefly. And then I heard the conductor yell to the stage, “Richard? Richard!” Someone rushed in from the wings, and the curtain came down....

From Chapter 2, about Dark Sisters, an opera about Utah polygamists:

    The main female character of the opera is Eliza, the prophet’s fourth wife. Her only daughter, a teenager named Lucinda, is one of the children taken by the police. In a flashback, Lucinda appears and sings to Eliza these lines, plaintively, “Mother dear, I love you so, your happy, smiling face is such a joy to look at….”

    It is a strange sensation to be in an audience of operagoers in Manhattan and hear an aria onstage from the LDS Primary Children’s Songbook. It’s a song I sang for the first time in a tiny white room in Enoch, Utah, sitting on a carved, white wooden pew with a purple banner hung in front, “Be Reverent”, and with a parlor organ in the corner, the organist pumping with her feet to generate its reedy sounds to accompany a chorus of perhaps a dozen of us children. In the opera, the orchestration of the children’s song begins recognizably and then spins into its own harmonic world. I have chills. I presume that no one else in the audience is reacting this way, but I find it difficult to breathe for fear of missing a single note of this music.

From Chapter 5, about Wagner, the Ring cycle, and Hitler:

    But maybe I should just say it: attending the Wagner cycle of operas makes me uncomfortable philosophically. It isn’t merely that the composer was a Nazi favorite and that Hitler adored him. It runs deeper than that for me.... What are we to do with the hatefulness of Wagner’s anti-Semitism? It goes beyond a distasteful case of prejudice. Wagner wrote about the “harmful influence of Jewry on the morality of the nation”. He wrote that Jewish music is without expression and is characterized by coldness and indifference, triviality and nonsense and that to admit a Jew into the world of art results in pernicious consequences that poison the public taste in the arts. Wagner—not Hitler—coined the expressions “Jewish problem” and “final solution,” which is a call for a holocaust. It’s as simple as that....

    For Hitler’s 50th birthday, he requested from the Wagner family original copies of the operas and took them with him into his bunker. Hitler also used Wagner as a benchmark to censure contemporary music and label it as degenerate. But more than that, Hitler loved Wagner’s racist philosophies and he looked for ways to bring to pass the composer/philosopher’s darkest intentions.

    Yes, that was all a long time ago. But it remains an open wound for many people. Israel hasn’t heard a Wagner opera performance since Kristallnacht in 1938....

From Chapter 12, the season coming to an end:

    What does this have to do with Mormon singers at the Met? I am affected by these singers the way that Jewish baseballs fans were when Sandy Koufax chose not to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the date fell on Yom Kippur. I imagine that for young Jewish boys in Brooklyn, where I used to live when I first moved in New York City, Koufax symbolized that, at last, anything was possible. Without doubt, the same thing is happening today with African Americans because of Barak Obama’s presidency in the White House.

    For me, the professional accomplishments of Mormon opera singers point to an unusual overlap in things about which I’m proud. Over time, what will the consequences be? Like any breakthrough, the individual achievement invites imitation to the point of acceptance and eventually, to a critical mass of change. I am aware of the changes that these singers might bring to the art of my culture, and I also have an eye on their symbolic importance. For a year, I have followed the performances of six Mormon opera singers in the larger context of a season at the best opera house in America. As individual nights in an opera house, they were of historical importance to a relative few.

    But I am one of the few.

The six LDS singers engaged by the Met during the 2011-2012 season are: Ginger Costa-Jackson, mezzo-soprano, Wendy Bryn Harmer, soprano; Erin Morley, soprano; Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano; Nicholas Pallesen, baritone, and Nina Warren, soprano.


    Glen Nelson is a freelance writer. As a ghostwriter and collaborator, his twenty books have sold over a million copies and include several New York Times best sellers. He is also an opera librettist and a life-long opera fan. As founding director of Mormon Artists Group in 1999, he has commissioned and produced 23 projects with 77 LDS artists in the fields of music, art, poetry, essay, memoir, film, and photography. These works are in the permanent collections of major museums, university libraries, special collections, and private collections throughout the U.S.


     Annie Poon created nine illustrations for Mormons at the Met based on operas of the season with LDS singers in the cast. Poon is best known for her award-winning stop animation videos shown regularly at film festivals and in museums around the country. Poon’s work will be on display in two prominent exhibitions beginning in December: at the Museum of Modern Art, “Rock, Paper, Scissors: Let’s Play!” (12/8/12); and at the BYU Museum of Art, “We Could Be Heroes: The Mythology of Monsters and Heroes in Contemporary Art” (12/7/12-5/4/13)


    Mormons at the Met is being published as a Limited Edition volume, with silk bookcloth over boards. Nine color illustrations by Annie Poon are interspersed throughout the book, 450 pages, 11.25” x 7.5”. The books are signed and numbered by the author and artist, limited to an edition of 50.  $150

  Nine copies are being sold as a Deluxe Edition which includes the Limited Edition, above, plus an original, signed drawing by Poon, from the volume. The Deluxe Edition also includes commercial DVD and CD recordings showcasing the singers featured in Mormons at the Met (DVDs: The Magic Flute, The Audition, Thäis, and The Book of Gold; and CDs: Music@Menlo 11, Der König Kandaules, and Ives: Songs Vol. 3). $500 Sold out

Introduction from Mormons at the Met

Explore the Deluxe Edition

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