Alumni Profile: Opera Composer Pivots from Stage to Screen

Spring Summer 2022 Issue

David Little '01 David Little ’01
Credit: Matt Zugale
As a teenager, David T. Little ’01 knew that he wanted to be a composer but wasn’t sure how that desire would transition into a career.

“Initially I thought I wanted to write for film,” Little says. “But in my first year at SU, I quickly discovered 20th-century music and was hooked. After that, I began to see my professional pathway as rooted in classical and concert music — my interest in story-telling and theatre eventually brought me to opera.”

After graduating from Susquehanna, Little earned a Master of Music in composition from The University of Michigan. In 2006, he earned a Master of Fine Arts in composition from Princeton University, and in 2011 he earned a doctorate. As part of his dissertation, he composed his first opera, Soldier Songs — and its cinematic adaptation received acclaim from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer and was nominated for a 2022 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.

“One of the big things to emerge from the pandemic was the surge in creation of opera films,” he adds. “So far, I’ve been involved in three: Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera, with Houston Grand Opera; Soldier Songs with Opera Philadelphia; and Black Lodge with Beth Morrison Projects, which will premiere this fall.”

Many of Little’s major compositions have been operas, including Dog Days, JFK, Black Lodge and What Belongs to You. His work has been performed throughout the world — in London, Milan, Montreal, Singapore, Los Angeles and beyond — and has been commissioned by The Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The London Sinfonietta, Opéra de Montréal, Carnegie Hall and several other companies, venues and festivals.

“I’ve always appreciated that Susquehanna gave me space to cause trouble,” Little says. “Founding and running SU New Music Ensemble gave me a good road map for starting my own.”

In addition to his work as a composer, Little is the founding artistic director and drummer for Newspeak, a not-for-profit arts organization and music ensemble that performs contemporary political music and encourages younger composers to consider and create works that define their own view of social engagement.

“I also have very fond memories of being part of many theatre productions at SU,” he adds. “I draw on those experiences every day in the work I do now.”

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