• Allison Smith (US)

    Allison R. Smith received her PhD from Boston University in Historical Musicology in 2023. Her dissertation, “Sounding Futures: Black Operatic Voice in Postapartheid South Africa,” focuses on the participation and education of Black South Africans in opera and the processes of some of the opera industry’s institutions. Her work aims to put Black vocal pedagogies, Black quotidian experiences, and institutional processes in conversation with South Africa’s colonial and apartheid pasts. She received funding from the American Musicological Society, Boston University, and the federal government to conduct archival research and fieldwork in Cape Town, South Africa. Allison has published this research in The Opera Journal and has presented this research both domestically and abroad. Allison is a founding member of the Black Opera Research Network and currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Black Opera and Music Theatre (JBOM).

    Currently Allison works in civic engagement for Virginia Opera in Norfolk, Virginia.

  • Kai Hinrich Müller (Germany)

    Kai Hinrich Müller is director of the Bauhaus Music Festival in Berlin and the Terezín Music Academy in the former ghetto of Theresienstadt. He also serves as the academic lead for several projects related to the historically informed performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring (together with Kent Nagano and Jan Vogler). Kai has held fellowships in Germany and the USA, most recently at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles, where he initiated the transatlantic series OPERA & DEMOCRACY. He studied musicology, law and business administration (PhD 2013; Habilitation 2022) and teaches at the Cologne University of Music and Dance.

  • Philip Miller (South Africa)

    Philip Miller is a South African composer and sound artist whose practice traverses many different media and musical styles: from his internationally acclaimed choral composition: Rewind a Cantata for voice, tape and testimony based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to his numerous multimedia collaborations and films with the artist William Kentridge exhibited in museums and galleries all over the world.

    He premiered his new opera “Nkoli: The Vogue Opera” at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg in November 2023 with a tour planned to the UK and Europe in 2024.

  • Tshegofatso Moeng (South Africa)

    Tshegofatso Moeng is a singer, arranger and music director from Magong, South Africa. He received a Fulbright Scholarship (2014) to study in The US for a Master of Music in Opera Performance from the University of Maryland (2017). Since graduation, he has performed on stages in the United States and Europe. In recent seasons he was heard in stage productions such as William Kentridge’s The Head and The Load. Mr Moeng was the co-arranger in an album of a selection of songs by 20th century South African composer Reuben T Caluza titled “Reuben T. Caluza: The B Side” and premiered a live performance of the album in Johannesburg.

    Mr Moeng is the music director in Miller’s opera Nkoli: The Vogue Opera.



Jun 11 2024


9am PDT/12pm EDT/5pm GMT/6pm SAST
9:00 am - 10:30 am

Opera and the Intersections of Democracy


  • Philip Miller, composer of Nkoli: The Vogue Opera (Johannesburg, 2023)
  • Tshegofatso Moeng, musical director of Nkoli: The Vogue Opera (Johannesburg, 2023)
  • Allison Smith, Civic Engagement Coordinator of Virginia Opera
  • Kai Hinrich Müller, convenor of Opera & Democracy: Transatlantic Conversations & Concerts (Cologne University of Music and Dance)

2024 is a big year for democracy. With national elections in 40 countries including the US, the UK, and South Africa, as well as parliamentary elections for the European Union, democratic values will once again be put to the ultimate test. 2024 also marks important anniversaries in the history of democracy. These include the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections, the 35th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which paved the way for democratic transitions behind the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’, and the 57th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia case in the US, which initiated the legalization of interracial marriage. Despite these significant milestones, however, democracy’s promises of equality have not yet been fully realized. Around the world, women, people of color, stateless persons, and sexual and religious minorities remain subject to political neglect and disenfranchisement. Moreover, democracy itself appears under threat from a rise in extremist and populist rhetoric.

BORN’s 2024 public discussion forum asks how opera can respond to these challenges. It considers what role opera has to play in the celebration and/or implementation of democratic culture, and reflects specifically on the interaction between race, political agency, and presence on the operatic stage. The event, which is open to all, draws together an international panel of practitioners and experts involved in the creation of Nkoli: The Vogue Opera (Johannesburg, 2023, music by Philip Miller), Loving v. Virginia (Virginia Opera, 2025, music by Damien Geter), and the discussion series, Opera & Democracy: Transatlantic Conversations & Concerts. Together, they will examine opera’s historical role in advancing democratic values, its participation in the sounding and/or silencing of disenfranchised voices, and its future potential to empower political understanding and participation among citizens around the world. Topics included, but were not limited to

    • The intersections between race, gender, sexuality, and political enfranchisement.
    • The role of staged drama in portraying or communicating political values.
    • The representational capacities of opera.
    • The relationship between opera and an increasingly prescriptive state.
    • Democratic processes in commissioning, writing, composing, staging, performing, producing, and attending opera.

 This event was recorded. Watch it below:

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