JANUARY 17, 2023 BY MARGARET SAVOIE FOR THE UM GRADUATE SCHOOL WINTER NEWSLETTER
This fall, Las Vegas enjoyed a taste of the creative talent within The University of Mississippi’s Master of Music (M.M.) program, and what it has to offer. Letters to Lily, written by M.M. student, Emily Clements, hit the Opera Las Vegas stage from September 30th through October 2nd, 2022.
Letters to Lily is an Opera Las Vegas production, solely produced by women. Opera Las Vegas selected Letters to Lily for the Women Composers Festival season to celebrate women’s power and shine a light on LGBTQ themes.
“This LGBTQ coming-of-age story is dramatically crafted to be bookended by a flashback and then a real-time recollection of the watershed Stonewall riots. Lily has a secret from her narrow-minded parents, one that explodes musically into expressive song,” said the Opera Las Vegas.
Clements’s love for music began during her youth, growing up with a father who worked as a composer and pianist. Much of her inspiration is from Broadway shows, operas, and the storytelling of music through theater. Before finding her passion for voice and opera, Clements was a violinist for eight years. Prior to attending The University of Mississippi, Clements began her academic career at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) with Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Intensive Compositional Studies.
“Emily is a hard-working musician who is clearly passionate about her art,” said Dr. Jos Milton, associate professor of music, “She is a joy to teach, and I am so glad that she decided to pursue a graduate study at The University of Mississippi.”
Letters to Lily was a slow progression over four years. After Clements attended her first young artist program, she left inspired by the singers, new music, and shows. During that same time, one of her mentors, Dr. Linda Lister, saw the world premiere of her own opera State of Grace. Witnessing this event was impactful for Clements because she saw how Lister shaped her story through music. Clements says this was a turning point for her.
“I wanted a show that everyone can relate to, [both] opera people to non-opera people,” said Clements, “the idea of having two leading ladies was important as well, and I wanted to celebrate Lily and Sam’s love story as well as bring awareness to the 1969 Stonewall Riots/LGBTQ movement and today’s social justice issues.”
After a discussion of preliminary ideas with Lister, Clements had the opportunity to workshop a few scenes of her music in the Opera Scenes show. The following year, Clements was accepted to the composition program to take private lessons with Dr. Jennifer Bellor. The two worked together for two years, and Bellow mentored Clements through writing the entire opera. Clements took the chance and proposed the opera to the Las Vegas companies. As the production started casting, Bellor and Lister were asked to produce it.
“It was full circle for me to not only be taught by these amazing mentors but to have them bring my story to life on stage and through the music with Opera Las Vegas,” said Clements.
The University does not have a degree track in music composition, and students are not required to have their work performed. Milton said that this is both exciting and rare to have a student’s original work featured in the realm of a public performance.
“I continue to hope and work to pull more advanced singers, like Emily, into our masters of music/performance program, so that the level of artistry continues to rise within the department of music,” said Milton.
This professional engagement from student musicians in the program reflects highly on the music program, and such engagement shows evidence of tangible success and productivity in the incredibly competitive realm of classical music.
Clements’s resume does not stop with Letters to Lily. She was Cupid in Orpheus in the Underworld, Second Lady in Dido and Aeneas, and Constance (cover) in Dialogues of the Carmelites at UNLV. Clements also performed in Pirates of Penzance with Vegas City Opera and Summer Super Theatre. Before that, Clements originated the role of Felicity in Lister’s world premiere of State of Grace in the fall of 2018, and she performed in Cynthia Wong’s workshop premiere of No Guarantees. Additionally, Clements performed at the National Opera Association conference in Salt Lake City for State of Grace, played Elizabeth Tabor in The Ballad of Baby Doe, and was in the chorus in Little Women at Harrower’s Young Artist Program in Atlanta, Georgia.