A West Edge Opera Commission

World Premiere 2023


Nathaniel Stookey, Composer,

Libretto by Eisa Davis and Nathaniel Stookey

Based on the play by Eisa Davis

"Sometimes hearing a short outtake is enough to give the flavor of a creation without quite conveying the dramatic stakes involved. “Bulrusher,” an opera in the works from composer Nathaniel Stookey based on a play by Eisa Davis, is a coming-of-age tale set in 1950s Boonville (Mendocino County) about an African American orphan girl."

"The excerpts performed under Emily Senturia’s fluid musical direction were enough to whet a listener’s appetite for more. Stookey’s writing has an eloquent gentility, and the libretto — studded with Boontling, the quirky patois of generations of inhabitants — sparkles from line to line."


Joshua Kosman, SF Chronicle (from Snapshot 2021 performance)


Nathaniel Stookey

Eisa Davis.jpg

Eisa Davis

In 2017, San Francisco composer Nathaniel Stookey was one of the composers participating in ‘Snapshot.’ Stookey showcased his operatic monodrama Ivonne with extraordinary success. Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle described the work as “a vividly etched short story that never sets a foot wrong [...] a marvelous achievement.”


We are excited that Nathaniel Stookey will be the composer of West Edge Opera’s first commission while he develops his first full-length opera, Bulrusher, based on the play of the same title by Eisa Davis who will serve as co-librettist. Bulrusher the play was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.


Bulrusher is a coming of age story about an African-American girl growing up in Northern California’s remote Anderson Valley in 1955. Found in a basket by the river, she is raised by the local schoolteacher and has never seen anyone that looks like her until a young Black woman from Alabama comes to town. Meeting someone like herself opens a political, sexual and identity awakening within her.


The development of the complete opera Bulrusher will take place over the course of three years, with a series of milestones built into the process.


Milestone #1: October 2020. We did an online libretto reading with actors, a dramaturg, West Edge General Director Mark Streshinsky, and Nathaniel Stookey with Eisa Davis. This milestone was at the service of Stookey and Davis to hear the shape of their story, now in the form of an opera libretto, and receive feedback from the actors, dramaturg, and West Edge Opera.


Milestone #2: May 2021 will mark the fifth anniversary of West Edge Opera’s program ‘Snapshot’ and will include in its program a selection of music from Bulrusher, presented to the public. This milestone will offer Stookey and Davis the chance to hear a selection from their opera with instrumentalists, singers,and enhanced supertitles.


Milestone #3: Cincinnatti Opera. Bulrusher has been selected for a workshop with their new opera development program Opera Fusion. Opera Fusion provides the opportunity for composers and librettists to workshop an opera during a 10-day residency in Cincinnati, using the facilities, personnel, and talent of both Cincinnati Opera and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.


Milestone #4: A full workshop with orchestra will take place with 2 concert performances as part of the West Edge Festival 2022.

The Premiere: Bulrusher will debut in a fully staged production as part of West Edge Festival 2023.


We are proud to announce the commissioners of Bulrusher: Bernice Lindstrom; Todd Yancey, MD and David Denniston; Michèle and Larry Corash; Russ Irwin; Robert Ripps and Steven Spector.


We are currently seeking workshop and production sponsors. If you would like to be involved in the creation of this important opera, please contact Emilie Whelan. emilie@westedgeopera.org