A driving force in new American Opera for over 25 years, Grethe Barrett Holby works in multiple artistic dimensions. Her background and skills in theatre and storytelling, dance and movement, and architecture and visual design combine to achieve 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, and Ardea Arts / Family Opera Initiative in 1995, 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 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, and Michigan Opera Theater. She began her dancing career for 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 & Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. 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.
Holby has collaborated with the artists and composers Leonard Bernstein, Plácido Domingo, Lou Reed, Kitty Brazelton, and many more, in venues from The Kennedy Center and La Scala to The Flea Theater. She has directed Faust for opera companies in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Memphis; La Traviata in North Carolina, and most recently, John Cage’s Europera 5 and the American staged premiere of Erik Satie’s Socrate for Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO).
In the 2014-2015 season, Holby’s focus is on the development of two major projects. The Three Astronauts is an opera based on a children's book by Umberto Eco with music by a trio of international composers. Workshop presentations of The Three Astronauts have been performed at the International Symposium for Personal & Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in New Mexico and at LaGuardia Arts High School in New York. BOUNCE, with a libretto by renowned poet Charles R. Smith, Jr. and music mainly by Glen Roven, brings opera-theatre to basketball courts in inner cities and rural America. BOUNCE launched its wildly successful world premiere at the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre in November 2017. Also in 2014, Holby has produced and choreographed a new staging of the classic tale Babar with music by Poulenc, and created original material for two opening scenes.
Holby earned a Master of Architecture degree and a B.S. in Architecture and Aero-Astro Engineering, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has participated on panels for OPERA America, The Kennedy Center, Beijing Modern Music Festival, and others, and has given master classes at MIT and Boston University. Holby currently lives in New York City with her husband, the Vogue photographer Arthur Elgort. They have three children: photographer Sophie Elgort, filmmaker Warren Elgort, and movie star Ansel Elgort.