American Atheist
an opera-requiem in eight scenes
[work in progress]

Music Stefan Weisman
David Cote

Developed by
American Opera Projects
Lead development artist
Lauren Flanigan
In association with director
Kevin Newbury


  Listen to Excerpt


American Atheist recounts the life and violent death of Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919–1995), at one time the world’s most famous atheist. O’Hair won a landmark 1963 Supreme Court case against prayer in schools, then went on to found the group American Atheists. Twenty-two years later, she, her son, and adopted granddaughter were abducted from their home in Austin, Texas. They were murdered and dismembered, their remains buried outside of San Antonio. The opera uses elements from a Requiem Mass to illuminate major events in O’Hair’s life. It is an irreverent yet ecstatic exploration of faith and freedom in modern America.

Stefan Weisman is a composer living in New York City. Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times described his music as "personal, moody and skillfully wrought." When his song "Twinkie" was featured on the nationally syndicated program The Wendy Williams Show, the host said, "Very unique...You're not going to hear opera like this anywhere else...Fabulous!" His compositions include chamber, orchestral, theater, dance and choral pieces, and he has specialized in vocal works that explore edgy and compelling topics. His opera Darkling, commissioned by American Opera Projects, was included in the Guggenheim Museum's Works & Process series, premiered to great acclaim at the East 13th Street Theater and toured Europe in 2007. It was released by Albany Records in November 2011. His one-act opera Fade, commissioned by the British opera company Second Movement, premiered in London in 2008 and also had successful performances in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Brooklyn. His evening length opera, The Scarlet Ibis, was premiered in the 2015 PROTOTYPE opera festival, produced by HERE and Beth Morrison Projects. The Wall Street Journal said it was "subtly subversive, and it's production groundbreaking." Among his other commissions are works for Bang on a Can, Sequitur, and the Empire City Men's Choir. He is a graduate of Bard College (BA), Yale University (MA), and Princeton University (PhD). His music is available on New Amsterdam Records and Albany Records.

David Cote is a playwright, librettist and arts journalist based in New York City. Opera: Three Way with Robert Paterson (BAM & Nashville Opera); The Scarlet Ibis (Prototype Festival) and Fade with Stefan Weisman; and We’ve Got Our Eye on You with Nkeiru Okoye. David co-wrote the text for Okoye’s piece for baritone and orchestra, Invitation to a Die-In, dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin. His song cycle with Robert Paterson, In Real Life, was performed by soprano Marnie Breckenridge and American Modern Ensemble. Choral works with Paterson, Did You Hear? and Snow Day, were sung by Musica Sacra and conducted by Kent Tritle on Eternal Reflections (American Modern Recordings). In late 2017, AMR and Naxos will release the original cast recording of Three Way. Plays include Otherland (O’Neill finalist) and Fear of Art. David was the longest serving theater editor and chief drama critic of Time Out New York (2003-17). His reporting and reviews have run in American Theatre, The Village Voice, Opera News, The Guardian and The New York Times. He has written companion books to the hit Broadway musicals Wicked, Jersey Boys and Spring Awakening. As an actor and director, David worked with avant-garde icon Richard Foreman, Iranian exile Assurbanipal Babilla, and writer-director Richard Maxwell. David lives in Manhattan with his wife, audiobook narrator Katherine Kellgren. Fellowships: The MacDowell Colony. Member of ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild. B.A. Bard College. @davidcote,