Cynthia Stokes

Assistant Professor, Opera Theater
Headshot of SXSW Speaker Cynthia Stokes


Reimagining Opera for the Future: The Andrée Expedition

Friday, March 11, 3 p.m.
Surround Stage



The Andrée Expedition, a 360° VR Opera is a prototype, where an audience of one experiences the tragedy unfold from virtual pack ice with the opera singer and pianist. The pandemic forced the opera community to re-examine how we create and deliver content. This immersive technology is a powerful tool to solve short- and long-term challenges for audience members who, for any number of reasons, may not feel comfortable attending an opera performance. 


American stage and opera director Cynthia Stokes’ is committed to reimagining opera for the 21st century by create provocative, thrilling operatic productions and by encouraging the next generation of performing artists and audience members. She has accomplished this by challenging the relationship between performer and audience by creating site-specific productions. Some of her site-specific opera installations include: La hija de Rappaccini staged in a public slot canyon lobby on the campus of the University of Arizona; Queen of Carthage, adapted from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas which was set overlooking the last plot of undeveloped land overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California for The Without Walls Festival; and Dominic Argento’s The Andrée Expedition with international baritone, Michael Chioldi which premiered in an abandoned marble quarry in Vermont.

Recently, she reimagined her production of The Andrée Expedition as an intimate 360-degree immersive experience for an audience of one. The Andrée Expedition insists upon intimacy and encourages an active role for the audience, the performer and pianist; all of three floating on an ice pack suspended in air and suspended in time.

Ms. Stokes has also directed productions of new operas, operas by women composers, re-imaging of classical works and Spanish language operas. She frequently collaborates with conductor Michael Francis of The Florida Orchestra and Mainly Mozart. Their work together includes Midsummer Night’s Dream (Mendelssohn) and the premiere of her new libretto and staging for Thamos, King of Egypt (Mozart, Philipp). She was also the resident staging director for Alamo City Opera where she directed five seasons of operatic productions. Other opera directing highlights include Silent Night for Piedmont Opera; The Rape of Lucretia for UA’s Opera Workshop; Le nozze di Figaro for San Antonio Opera, Roméo et Juliette for San Diego Opera; Pagliacci for Opera San Jose; Madama Butterfly for Opera Company of Philadelphia; Homies and Popz (tour) for Los Angeles Opera; Margaret Garner for Cincinnati Opera and Opera Carolina. She has been a member of the directing staff for Dallas Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, The Florentine Opera, Opera Pacific, and Glimmerglass Opera. Recent funding for Ms. Stokes includes The Arizona Commission on the Arts; University of Arizona Provosts Initiatives Grant; and a Qualcomm Ideas Grant. She holds an M.FA. in Directing from UC San Diego. She is an Assistant Professor of Opera Theater at The University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music.