Posted on November 13, 2023 by Jourdan Howell; Rolando Ramon, editor

The UTSA Lyric Theatre gives commissioned composers the opportunity to premiere their works and challenges student vocalists in its brand-new opera production, Epigrams, premiering this Friday.
EPIGRAMS Production Poster

EPIGRAMS Production Poster

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13– A new UTSA Lyric Theatre initiative known as Epigrams will premiere its first production of the same name on Friday, November 17 in the UTSA Recital Hall. The initiative showcases short operas and supports three main goals: to commission new operas, to give composers studying at the School of Music a chance to premiere their stage works, and to program pieces that challenge and inspire UTSA singers. Epigrams will also be the UTSA Lyric Theatre’s first opera production of the 2023-2024 season.

The cast of Epigrams features twelve student artists comprised of UTSA graduates and undergraduates. Epigrams features the premiere of three new stage works composed by student Christian Stevens, UTSA alum and current music staff Wesley S. Uchiyama-Penix, and American composer and librettist, Neil Shaw Cohen. Also being performed are rare gems by 20th-century composers William H. Squires and Darius Milhaud. Conducted and directed by Dr. Jourdan Laine Howell (Associate Professor of Instruction, Voice & Lyric Theatre) and Justin Chappell (undergraduate music education major), the evening’s music will be performed by pianist Geoffrey Waite, a new addition to the Lyric Theatre’s creative team.

“This initiative will establish UTSA Lyric Theatre as a program that boldly invests in new repertoire, which simultaneously serves to propel our student artists toward professional success,” said Howell.

“The Epigrams initiative will continue UTSA Lyric Theatre’s commitment to providing opportunities for student conductors and stage directors. I am grateful to have Justin Chappell on board to assistant direct several of the mini-operas on the program, as well as take the reigns on The Singing Lesson.”

W. H. Squires’ The Singing Lesson is a six-minute baritone and mezzo-soprano duet that student director Justin Chappell adapted for the stage. Baritone Jared Kellman-Medina and mezzo-soprano Callan Sramek step into the roles of professor and student for a humorous peek into a classical voice lesson. Smartly led by Chappell, this quick piece will be a delight.

“I’m so thankful to have the chance to work with the UTSA Lyric Theater and fulfill my dream of staging my own performance. This is a fantastic opportunity,” says Chappell.

image0-2.jpeg  Lyric Theatre students rehearsing

Darius Milhaud’s The Abduction of Europa is a seven-minute opera in eight scenes. Milhaud’s satirical take on the Greek myth of Jupiter and Europa pushes the boundary of decency while offering several hilarious moments that are sure to entertain. Directed by Howell, the miniature opera features a full Greek chorus with Lucas Moncada Zoll (tenor), Antonio Zubillaga (baritone), Lexie Cary (soprano), and Abraham Gomez (bass) in the lead roles.

Wesley Uchiyama-Penix’s Soul of Word examines the importance of language, specifically how language affects one’s ability to connect with their culture or faith. The libretto was inspired by the true-life experiences of the cast members singing in the 14-minute mini-opera.

Another benefit of the Epigrams initiative is that one student has the opportunity to study multiple characters in one semester.

“Working on these smaller works like The Abduction of Europa and Soul of Word has really given me a diverse experience,” said tenor Lucas Moncada Zoll. “So often we get a role and get burnt out on the singing the same music over and over throughout the semester… this short form, fun music is a breath of fresh air every time I walk into rehearsal.” 

Undergraduate music major Christian Stevens’s The Bronze Idol, a full-scale opera, is inspired by novelist Jean-Paul Satre’s No Exit. Those who are familiar with Satre’s novel will recognize the Valet (Antonio Zubillaga), Garçin (Jared Kellman-Medina), Inèz (Emily Densmore), and Estelle (Ana Marinelarena) as they become acquainted in their eternal abode – hell.

Graduate soprano Emily Densmore is excited about the commission aspect of the initiative as it gives her the chance to work with a composer on their piece.

“Starting off my grad school journey working on two new pieces of music [Soul of Word and The Bronze Idol] has been an incredible opportunity. Not many musicians get the chance to work with living composers in their career,” says Densmore. “It has been such a joy to bring these new pieces of music to life, and I can’t wait to see what more is in store for me at UTSA!”

Commissioned works allow UTSA singers to perform repertoire about issues that matter to them. An example is Nell Shaw Cohen’s The Fire Tower, which addresses changes in the forest environment due to drought and fire. Presented as a workshop premiere, The Fire Tower, directed by Howell, follows a fire tower worker named Ray and her successor, June. As the women hike to the tower, they connect over shared grief and a deep love of nature. The 20-minute opera features graduate soprano Lexie Cary and mezzo-soprano Johanna Kitchen in the lead roles.

Dr. Howell hopes the Epigrams initiative will bring a new set of listeners to experience what UTSA Lyric Theatre offers.

“Not everyone wants to listen to a three-hour opera; not everyone wants to listen to music from 200 years ago. Epigrams is perfect for those who want a little of this and a little of that – and want it in under an hour,” said Howell.

Epigrams is showing on Friday, November 17th at 7:30 p.m. in the UTSA Recital Hall. Tickets are available online at

— Jourdan Howell; Rolando Ramon, editor