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Ryan Ebright
Ryan Ebright, Ph.D. 2014

The department extends a hearty congratulations to Ryan Ebright, Ph.D. 2014, who received one of this year’s Kurt Weill Prizes from the Kurt Weill Foundation for his article “Doctor Atomic or: How John Adams Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sound Design,” published in Cambridge Opera Journal in 2019.

The Kurt Weill Foundation biennially grants the prizes “to encourage scholarship in the disciplines of music, theater, dance, literary criticism and history addressing music theater since 1900 (including opera).” While the Foundation notes that they normally award two prizes for one article and one book, they awarded the prizes to three articles this year and no books. See the full list of winners here. The judges were complimentary about Ebright’s work, saying,

“This article opens up new pathways of understanding and reinvigorating the way we think about a much-discussed genre. It is already making a splash for helping define a new arena of study: sound design in opera.”

Ebright noted that the article truly began during a Kenan Fund Graduate Student Activities Award-supported research trip for his 2014 dissertation, “Echoes of the Avant-Garde in American Minimalist Opera” (under the direction of Mark Katz).

“This article draws heavily on research I conducted for my 2014 dissertation. My first research trip—out to San Francisco Opera in summer 2012 to conduct interviews and examine archival materials related to Doctor Atomic—was supported by a Kenan Fund Graduate Student Activities Award. UNC’s ongoing support for graduate student research in music is invaluable, and continues to pay dividends for current and former students.”

In celebration of the award, Cambridge University Press and the editors of Cambridge Opera Journal have made Ebright’s article freely available for six months. Read the abstract below and the full prize-winning article here.


In his autobiography, John Adams mused that his 2005 opera, Doctor Atomic, challenges directors and conductors owing to its ‘abstracted treatment’ of time and space. This abstraction also challenges scholars. In this article, I bring the cross-disciplinary field of sound studies into the opera house to demonstrate that Adams’s obfuscation of operatic space–time is achieved primarily through the use of a spatialised electroacoustic sound design. Drawing on archival materials and new interviews with director Peter Sellars and sound designer Mark Grey, I outline the dramaturgical, epistemological and hermeneutic ramifications of sound design for opera studies and advocate for disciplinary engagement with the spatial dimensions of electroacoustic music generally, and within opera specifically.

Ryan Ebright, Ph.D. 2014, is now Assistant Professor of Musicology in the College of Musical Arts at Bowling Green State University. His research centers on opera, song, and intersections of music and drama, with an emphasis on 20th-century and contemporary opera, minimalism, and 19th-century Lieder. His current book project, Making American Opera after Einstein, examines the efforts of artists and institutions over the last forty years to redefine what American opera is and how audiences experience it.

Dr. Ebright presents regularly at regional, national, and international conferences. His writing has appeared in the New York Times and NewMusicBox, the journals American Music and Cambridge Opera Journal, and the book Rethinking Reich. Before Bowling Green State University, Dr. Ebright taught at UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Greensboro.

Read more about Ebright here.

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