A driving force in new American opera for over 30 years, Grethe Barrett Holby has directly worked with such figures as Leonard Bernstein, Plácido Domingo, and Lou Reed, among others. She works in multiple artistic dimensions, and her background and skills in theatre and storytelling, dance and movement, and architecture and visual design combine to compelling results in every one of her artistic endeavors.
Holby is a visionary. She launched the groundbreaking organizations American Opera Projects in 1988, which she led for 13 years, Family Opera Initiative in 1995, and Ardea Arts in 2006, both of which she continues to lead. With these initiatives, Holby has changed the way the general public views opera, by engaging new audiences of all ages to the art form, often in unexpected settings. Holby is an originating cast member of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, touring Europe and finishing with two performances at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Holby has also collaborated with artists in venues from The Kennedy Center and La Scala to The Flea Theater and The Kitchen, and most recently, on basketball courts. She has directed Faust for opera companies in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Memphis; La Traviata in North Carolina, and John Cage’s Europera 5 and the American staged premiere of Erik Satie’s Socrate for Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO), William Mayer’s One Christmas Long Ago, and George Plimpton, Kitty Brazelton, and Holby’s Animal Tales for Ardea Arts and the Garden State Orchestra, among others.
Holby has served as resident choreographer of the Houston Grand Opera, choreographing Turandot, Wozzeck, and Dido and Aeneas, among others. She has also choreographed productions for Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera: Tales of Hoffmann, and for Michigan Opera Theater: Regina and Summer Snow. She began her performing career dancing for the minimalist Laura Dean and Dance Co. in Dean’s world premiere of Steve Reich’s Drumming and was an originating cast member of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, touring Europe and performing here in NYC at the Metropolitan Opera House, as well as performing for Eric Bogosian and others of the SoHo Avant Garde. Her own company, Grethe Holby and Dancers, staged works to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and music by Brian Eno, David Byrne, and many more.
Most recently for the 2019-20 season, Holby’s focus has been on the development of two major projects, BOUNCE The Basketball Opera and The Three Astronauts. BOUNCE, an American story told through basketball, performed on a basketball court, with story and libretto by Charles R. Smith, Jr., Beth Gutcheon, and Frank X Walker, and music by the late Glen Roven, Tomás Doncker, and Ansel Elgort, was developed in partnership with University of Kentucky Opera Theatre (UKOT) of Lexington, Kentucky. BOUNCE staged its development premiere from November 10–12, 2017 on a basketball court in downtown Lexington, with performances now being planned across the country from New Orleans to Alaskan native villages. BOUNCE—in partnership with EACH ONE TEACH ONE—will stage its NYC Premiere through a Six-Court NYC Boroughs Tour, ending with two full-length performances at the legendary Greg Marius Court in Rucker Park, Harlem on August 3–4, 2019.
Holby’s second current project The Three Astronauts is a space opera based on a picture book by Umberto Eco and Eugenio Carmi, with music and libretto by a team of international composers and writers from the United States, China, and Russia. Preview presentations of The Three Astronauts have been performed at the International Symposium for Personal & Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) and the Rio Grande Theatre, both in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and at LaGuardia Arts High School in New York City, and premiere planned to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo space program that landed the first human on the Moon.
Holby earned a Master of Architecture degree and a B.S. in Architecture with a concentration in Aero-Astronautical Engineering, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her thesis was in Theater Design. She also cross-registered and studied set design at Harvard University. On Broadway during her time in college, she was the assistant designer for Treemonisha. She has participated on panels for OPERA America, Kennedy Center, Beijing Modern Music Festival, Bryn Mawr College, and Pratt University, among others, and has given master classes at MIT and Boston University. Holby lives in New York City with her husband, legendary Vogue photographer Arthur Elgort. They have three children, photographer Sophie Elgort, filmmaker Warren Elgort, and movie star & musician Ansel Elgort.