Better Gods

Six voices and chamber orchestra (2016)

Piano/Vocal Score

Better Gods, an opera by composer Luna Pearl Woolf and librettist Caitlin Vincent, commissioned by the Washington National Opera, Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director, premiered January 8 and 9, 2016 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Timothy Myers conducted a production directed by Ethan McSweeny. Kumu Hula (master teacher) Vicky Holt Takamine choreographed and advised on Hawaiian language and cultural elements.

by Luna Pearl Woolf


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Told through the eyes of an American journalist, the world premiere of Better Gods is the story of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, who fought to preserve her people's native culture when the island was annexed to the U.S.


Queen Lili'uokalani: Daryl Freedman‡
Lauren Thurston: Rexford Tester‡
James Miller: Hunter Enoch‡
Judge Albert Judd: Timothy Bruno‡
Robert Wilcox: Wei Wu‡
Kahua: Ariana Wehr‡

Conductor: Timothy Myers*
Director: Ethan McSweeny*
Set Designer: Daniel Conway
Lighting Designer: Andrew Guban
Costume Designer: Lynly Saunders
Choreographer: Vicky Takamine*
Compose: Luna Woolf
Librettist: Caitlin Vincent

*WNO debut
‡ Current Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist


60 min


January 8-9, 2016
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC
Washington National Opera
Timothy Myers, conductor
Ethan McSweeney, director
Kumu Hula (master teacher) Vicky Holt Takamine, choreographer and advisor on Hawaiian language and cultural elements.


Commissioned by the Washington National Opera, Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director


solo S,M-S,T,2B,BB, piano


Caitlin Vincent

Program Notes


“Washington National Opera’s Better Gods brings a mostly unknown chapter in Hawaiian history onto the stage at the Kennedy Center, telling the story of Queen Lili’uokalani, the island nation’s last monarch, with dignity and high artistic values. I imagine the Hawaiian “better gods” are happy.”

Susan Galbraith – DC Theatre Scene

“Woolf’s new and original composition uses Hawaiian instruments to add an audible authenticity to the story. Throughout the opera the nose flute, Kalaʻau (warrior sticks made from strawberry guava trees), and ʻIliʻili (stone castanets) amplify the sadness and desperation of the Queen to maintain Hawaii’s culture.

This fascinating and heart-wrenching story of Better Gods is a production worth seeing. The touches of Hawaiian authenticity, and the tremendous strength of the performers, make the new fascinating and heart-wrenching Better Gods from the Washington National Opera a powerful experience.”

Kendall Mostafavi – DC Metro Theater Arts

“The Washington National Opera has always been a champion for young artists, both on stage and off. The WNO’s American Opera Initiative’s premier production of Better Gods is a testimony to that. Composed with ethnical truth by Luna Pearl Woolf, Better Gods is a stirring portrait of a determined Queen who must decide whether she should give up her crown or her soul.

Based on the true story of the annexation of Hawaii in 1898, and Queen Lili`uokalani’s struggle to keep her nation together. The story, as told with brutal honest through Caitlin Vincent’s stirring libretto, is a bold choice to be told at the Kennedy Center. A dark moment in our nation’s history, the fact that this story can be told at the nation’s premier art centers is a testament to the work of both the WNO and the Kennedy Center.

Ms. Woolf’s gorgeous score is underlined by the use of traditional Hawaiian chants and her score utilized authentic instruments like the nose flute, Kala’au (percussive sticks), and Ili’ili (castanets), that are native to the island. Ms. Woolf’s score also uses Queen Lili`uokalani’s famous composition, “Aloha ‘Oe”, sung in gorgeous counterpoint by soprano Ariana Wehr.”

Keith Tittermary – BWW Opera World