It is difficult to become a professional opera singer. It is perhaps even more difficult to become a professional composer. It is nearly impossible to do both. Despite the odds, Glimmerglass Festival guest artist Damien Geter has managed to achieve remarkable success in both areas, making performance debuts at houses such as the Metropolitan Opera and presenting his compositions with Des Moines Metro Opera and Washington National Opera, with a new commission premiering at Portland Opera in 2026.
Geter made his debut as a composer at Glimmerglass this summer with his opera Holy Ground with libretto by Lila Palmer. The one-act opera is presented alongside Kamala Sankaram and Jerre Dye’s Taking Up Serpents as part of a double bill. Holy Ground explores the Annunciation — the biblical story in which the archangel Gabriel offers the Virgin Mary the choice to bear the Messiah — from a new perspective with some comedy thrown in (cue bumbling angels who use slingshots to reach Earth).
Holy Ground is meant to create a space for dialogue around difficult topics rather than espouse one point of view. That being said, Geter isn’t shy about sharing his beliefs and has written works on subjects such as police brutality and the history of slavery in the United States.
“[Social justice] is a huge part of my philosophy as an artist and one of the reasons that I became serious as a composer,” Geter explains. “There’s a quote by Nina Simone that says ‘It’s the artist’s duty to reflect the times,’ and I believe that wholeheartedly.”
Geter’s work spans genres, reflecting his diverse background as a composer, singer, conductor, actor and instrumentalist. These different roles influence Geter’s work.
“They influence everything,” he said. “As a composer I think about what it would be like if I were actually singing the piece. I actually do sing every single note on the page – instruments and vocals. As a conductor, [I find] the easiest way of getting from one point to the next in terms of transitions… Conversely as a singer, when I look at a score, I am doing everything that’s on the page. I’ve actually gotten a lot more conservative as a singer as I’ve matured as a composer because I’m like, ‘the composer didn’t write that so I’m not going to do it.’”
It is worth noting that the librettist for Holy Ground, Lila Palmer, is also a singer. Geter credits Palmer with giving him musical inspiration through both her words and her suggestions and speaks highly of their creative relationship.
“She has deep passion for a lot of the same issues that I have passions about… and so to have somebody who has that same philosophy and that same drive as an artist, it seemed like the perfect marriage.”
When asked how he felt about premiering a work at Glimmerglass, Geter says,
“I never thought in a million years that I would have an opera premiering at The Glimmerglass Festival, so for me this is a complete joy.”
The Double Bill of Taking Up Serpents and Holy Ground will be at The Glimmerglass Festival through August 20.