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The 2018 Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize

Tom Cipullo is the recipient of the 2018 Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize, for his forthcoming work, Mayo.

The Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize committee is pleased to announce that noted composer Tom Cipullo (  has been selected as the recipient of the 2018 Pellicciotti Prize for his new opera, “Mayo.” Cipullo also wrote the libretto for the new work, which tells of America’s tragic infatuation with eugenics in the early 20th century. Based on a true story, the opera follows the life of Mayo Buckner, who was committed to the Iowa Home for Feeble-Minded Children at the age of eight, and forged a life of quiet dignity and meaning while living there for the next 60 years.

“‘Mayo is a gripping story that cries out for music, and, in its evocation of a person seen as an outsider by society, perfectly fulfills the mission of the Pellicciotti Prize,” said selection panel member and Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell.

Cipullo will receive a $25,000 commission to complete the new work, which will premiere in November 2018, with a full production at The Crane School of Music by the award-winning Crane Opera Ensemble and Orchestra.

About Tom Cipullo

Hailed by the American Academy of Art & Letters for music of "inexhaustible imagination, wit, expressive range and originality," composer Tom Cipullo is the winner of a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2013 Arts & Letters Award from the American Academy. Cipullo's music has been recorded on the Naxos, Albany, CRI, PGM, Centaur, and Capstone labels and is published by Oxford University Press and Classical Vocal Reprints. The Fort Worth Opera recording of his Glory Denied, (Albany Records) was cited by Opera News as among the best of 2014. The New York Times has called his music "intriguing and unconventional."


The finalists for the 2018 Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize gathered for a photo at the competition finals weekend on September. 23, 2016. They included (L-R): Soprano Colleen Skull (faculty), Baritone Jonathan Stinson (faculty), Baritone David Pittman-Jennings (faculty), mezzo soprano Lorraine Yaros Sullivan (faculty), tenor Kirk McAuliffe (student); music director Kirk Severtson (faculty); baritone Faraz Ardalan (student); tenor Sean Fahy (student); consulting dramaturg Cori Ellison; tenor Lonel Woods (faculty); baritone Wesly Clerge (student); and composer/librettist Tom Cipullo. (Photo: Johnna Bernard).



Baritone David Pittman-Jennings, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Yaros Sullivan, and Erik Severtson (portraying Mayo as a child) in a workshop performance of a scene from Tom Cipullo’s “Mayo,” at The Crane School of Music (Photo: Johnna Bernard).




About Mayo

Based on a true story, Mayo tells of America’s tragic infatuation with eugenics. Though sometimes considered solely the province of totalitarian states, the movement had a significant and horrifying past in the United States. Beginning at the dawn of the 20th century and continuing, remarkably, into the 1970s, thousands of unwanted American children were placed in institutions and held there, often for their entire lives. Using early, flawed versions of IQ tests as well as a perverted view of Darwinian science, officials of many states incarcerated numerous “deficient” children to protect the nation from what was described as “the menace of the feeble-minded.” One boy, Mayo Hazeltine Buckner, was committed to an institution at the age of eight and lived there for sixty years. At the age of 67, he was given a more modern intelligence test and was determined to have an IQ of 120. Mr. Buckner, who became a fine musician while institutionalized, is perhaps an unusual operatic hero. Nevertheless, his life, with all its inequities, tragedy, loneliness, and perhaps most surprisingly, a love story of the most tender temperament, is one that cries out to be told.

About the Prize
Pellicciotti Logo
The Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize was founded by Dr. Gary C. Jaquay ’67 to honor his life partner, Domenic J. Pellicciotti, an ardent fan of opera. The award seeks to encourage and acknowledge the creation of new opera works that explore themes related to tolerance, inclusion or the celebration of diversity.  Awarded every four years, a panel of distinguished opera professionals awards a $25,000 commission and full production to a composer/librettist team.

In January 2016, the adjudicating panel selected four finalists from among all the project proposals submitted, and each of the finalists was commissioned to write a fifteen-to-twenty-minute scene for workshop and performance at the finals in September 2016. During the recent competition finals, the Crane Opera Ensemble joined with Crane faculty artists to present commissioned scenes from each of the four finalists in a public performance on Sept. 24. The finalists were Albert Nobbs, composed by Patrick Soluri, with libretto by Deborah Brevoort; Mayo, composed by Tom Cipullo, who also wrote the libretto; The Reef, composed by Anthony Davis, with libretto by Joan Ross Sorkin, and Uncovered, composed by Lori Laitman, with libretto by Leah Lax.  Read More about the 2018 Finalists

                     Scene from Mayo as presented in the finals on Sept 24, 2016

                                     About the 2014 Pellicciotti Competition