Join Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid for an evening of excerpts from her provocative new opera, "The Shell Trial," fresh on the heels of its world premiere in Amsterdam.

June 13, 2024
7:30 pm
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Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid joins a special NationalSawdust+ program showcasing insights and excerpts from her new opera, The Shell Trial, written with librettist Roxie Perkins, on the heels of its March 2024 world premiere in Amsterdam. Commissioned by Dutch National Opera and based on the play De zaak Shell by Rebekka de Wit and Anoek Nuyens, the opera explores climate devastation as a crisis of responsibility via a landmark 2021 court case in which environmentalists won a shocking lawsuit against Shell Oil.

Joining Reid in the thought-provoking evening will be climate activist and founder of Justice Environment, Saad Amer. Soprano Shabnam Abedi, baritone Christopher Herbert, pianist Timothy Long, and Francisco Nuñez with his Young People’s Chorus of New York City, will perform arias sung from the perspectives of diverse figures, such as The Climate Refugee, The CEO, The Artist, as well as a chorus of children representing those killed by Shell’s colonial past and climate disasters. The evening will be hosted by NS+ curator Elena Park.

The composer will share her experience of creating the provocative piece, which offers a range of voices and viewpoints on whose responsibility it is to halt climate change. As the complexity of the issues in the Shell lawsuit becomes clear, boundaries between guilty party and innocent victim, past harm and future progress, and individual and collective responsibility grow increasingly blurred.

The event is part of NS+’s continuing For Nature series, three programs exploring the interplay and collision between the natural and human worlds, featuring artists and musicians, scientists, and activists working to preserve and restore the environment. For Nature is made possible by the generous support of Kathryn and Emmanuel Morlet and the Wescustogo Foundation.

The Shell Trial is a commission by Dutch National Opera, in co-production with Het Geluid (Maastricht), Opera Philadelphia, and Bregenz Festival.

Hero image taken from Fedora Shell Trial video used by Dutch National Opera 

About NationalSawdust+ 

Often topical and always imaginative, NationalSawdust+ is a lively performance and conversation series in which artists and thinkers share their passion for music and explore timely ideas, making surprising connections. Since National Sawdust’s inception, NS+ has been a home for intimate stories and unexpected artmaking, blurring boundaries between genres and disciplines. Last season's For Nature programs included works connected to ocean, land, and the animal kingdom; native and indigenous wisdom; and recent research and ways forward.

Curated by Elena Park, NS+ taps luminaries from theater, film and visual art, literature, science and beyond, to create insightful programs that reflect their own interests. Guests have included Jad Abumrad, Ava DuVernay, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Min-Jin Lee, Yo-Yo Ma, Nico Muhly, Carl Hancock Rux, Gabriella Smith, Patti Smith, esperanza spalding, Carrie Mae Weems, Marina Abramovic + Laurie Anderson, and Caroline Shaw + Anthony Roth Costanzo + Gandini Juggling. Jeff Tang is consulting producer for the series.

Please join us for other programs in our For Nature Series:

2/26: NationalSawdust+ presents Insectum Featuring Susie Ibarra, Jeffrey Zeigler, Graham Reynolds, and evolutionary biologist Jessica Ware

4/25: NationalSawdust+ presents COMPOST! Featuring Melissa Clark, David Cossin, Tannis Kowalchuk, Domingo Morales, Caroline Shaw, Mark Stewart, and more


The Shell Trial will have its world premiere on March 16, 2024 at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam. 

Photo credit: James Matthew Daniel

Ellen Reid, Composer

Ellen Reid is one of the most innovative artists of her generation. An American composer and sound artist whose breadth of work spans opera, sound design, film scoring, avant-pop, ensemble and choral writing, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for her opera, p r i s m, in 2019. Her orchestral work has been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, and the American Composers Orchestra, among others. Ellen serves as the Contemporary Music Chair of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and she is currently the first composer to be in residence with both Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Concert Hall and Concertgebouw Orchestra simultaneously.

She co-founded Luna Composition Lab in 2016 with composer Missy Mazzoli. The organization provides mentorship, education, and resources for young female, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming composers ages 13-18, and is the only initiative of its kind in the United States.

Born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1983, Ellen received her BFA from Columbia University and her MA from California Institute of the Arts. She continues to live and work in New York City and Los Angeles.

Roxie Perkins, Librettist

Roxie Perkins is an artist who writes and directs for theatre, opera, and TV. She is the librettist of Ellen Reid's Pulitzer Prize-winning opera p r i s m. Together they also won The Music Critics Association of North America's 2019 "Best New Opera" Award, and were nominated for “Best World Premiere” at the 2020 International Opera Awards. p r i s m was featured on NPR’s list of the “Best Classical Music of the Decade.”

Roxie has been awarded a Sundance Playwright Fellowship and her writing has been nominated to The Kilroy's "THE LIST" and We For She’s “WriteHer List,” rankings of the best unproduced plays and original TV pilots by women.

Her work has been programmed at The Kennedy Center's DIRECT CURRENT Festival, REDCAT, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, PROTOTYPE Festival, LA Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Cutting Ball Theater, A Noise Within, Crowded Fire, The Tank, Oberlin College, and internationally at Theatro Municipal in São Paulo. 



Saad Amer

Saad Amer is a leading climate activist and environmental justice expert. He is the Founder of the climate consultancy, Justice Environment. He served as an Expert Reviewer for the IPCC and consultant to the United Nations. He was named most influential voice in ESG by WWD and named to Forbes 30 under 30. As one of the country’s most prolific voting rights organizers, Saad has reached millions of voters and created campaigns featuring the likes of Vice President Al Gore, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Taylor Swift. He has spoken at the United Nations, US State Department, and TEDx, and has been profiled by Vogue, Nature and the New York Times. He studied Environmental Science and Public Policy at Harvard University.

Shabnam Abedi

A highly sought after soprano and recent addition to The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Shabnam Abedi received her Master’s Degree from Juilliard in Jazz Studies making her Juilliard’s first South Asian American jazz voice graduate. A versatile artist with a reputation for high-level music making in a wide variety of genres, Shabnam also studied opera at Mason Gross School of the Arts. Having played and sung Indian Classical Music since the age of 5, Shabnam’s first album, Amar Bijon Ghore, was released to wide acclaim in India and Bangladesh.

Christopher Herbert

Christopher Dylan Herbert performs opera, musical theater, concerts, and recitals around the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Significant recent performances include the development and premiere of Judd Greenstein’s A Marvelous Order, the presentation of Vivier’s Kopernikus in Buenos Aires, and the mounting of his self-conceived WINTERIZE, a reimagining of Schubert’s Winterreise for outdoor audience with transistor radios, in New York and Weimar, Germany. He is currently developing the role of Rodrigo with the Talea Ensemble in Suzanne Farrin’s new opera Macabéa, which premieres in 2025 in São Paulo, Brazil.

For a decade, Christopher was the baritone in the renowned Grammy-nominated quartet New York Polyphony. His 2020 album Voices in the Wilderness highlighted the contributions of eighteenth-century American female composers and received critical acclaim, most notably from NPR’s Morning Edition. He is currently the Vocal Area Coordinator and an associate professor at William Paterson University. He holds degrees from Yale, Harvard, and Juilliard, and is a board member of The Plimpton Foundation.

Timothy Long

Timothy Long is Artistic and Music Director of Opera at the Eastman School of Music and president of The Plimpton Foundation. He is a Muscogee Nation citizen from the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town and is one-half Choctaw on his maternal side.

Conducting engagements include the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, the Prince George Symphony, the Regina Symphony, the Eastman Philharmonia, the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra, Anchorage Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Opera Colorado, Utah Opera, Tulsa Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, the New York City Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera.

As a keyboardist, Tim has performed extensively, including concerto performances with the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Lawton Philharmonic, the Beethoven Society Orchestra of Washington DC, the Sociedad Filarmonica de Conciertos of Mexico City, the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra, and the Eastman Philharmonia.

Young People’s Chorus of New York City

The Young People’s Chorus of New York City (YPC) is an internationally renowned multicultural youth chorus founded by Artistic Director Francisco J. Núñez, a MacArthur Fellow and Musical America’s 2018 Educator of the Year.

YPC’s mission and values are deeply rooted in an innovative model of diversity, which provides children of all cultural and economic backgrounds with a unique program of music education and choral performance.

YPC’s artists’ superb virtuosity and brilliant showmanship have garnered many awards, including America’s highest honor for youth programs, a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, presented at the White House. YPC also earned the distinction of “Choir of the World” in July 2018 at the International Choral Kathaumixw (Powell River, British Columbia), marking the first time a North American chorus has ever won this title in the 34-year history of Kathaumixw.

Elena Park

Photo credit: Julia Inouye

Director, producer, and NationalSawdust+ curator Elena Park has moved freely through the worlds of arts, culture, and media throughout her colorful career. Last spring, she conceived and directed Visual Cavafy, a series of visual poems screened at the New Museum as part of the Onassis Foundation's Cavafy Festival, showcasing the talents of Taylor Mac, Julianne Moore, Caroline Shaw, and Carl Hancock Rux with Daniel Bernard Roumain, Bora Yoon, and Jeffrey Zeigler, among others.

Elena’s director/executive producer credits include eight In Song video portraits for San Francisco Opera, featuring Pretty Yende and Jamie Barton; Cleveland Orchestra’s In Focus performances ranging from Mozart to Debussy to Unsuk Chin, conducted by Alan Gilbert and Jane Glover; Vân-Ánh Võ for Stanford Live; and Jake Heggie's Intonations for the Cabrillo Festival. For the Metropolitan Opera, she is Executive Producer of the Saturday radio broadcasts and was Supervising Producer for the first 140 shows in its worldwide Live in HD series.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Elena founded Lumahai Productions, an independent consulting and production company, to embrace opportunities for artistic collaboration and social change with artists, thinkers, and communities as well as institutions, large and small. Selected roles: Curator for San Francisco Opera's INSTIGATORS; Supervising Producer for San Francisco Symphony's MTT25: An American Icon; Special Advisor for …(Iphigenia); Artistic Consultant for the Kennedy Center; Executive Producer for WNYC Radio; and Strategic Advisor for Cambodian Living Arts, Meyer Sound, and San Francisco Opera. TV/film credits: Bel Canto, Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle.

Jun 13

NationalSawdust+ presents A Crisis of Responsibility: Excerpts from "The Shell Trial" Featuring Composer Ellen Reid, climate activist Saad Amer, and artists including Shabnam Abedi, Christopher Herbert, and more