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Tesla's Pigeon (2010)

for solo soprano, piano | 18:00

by Melissa Dunphy | text by Shakespeare, Goethe, Viereck, Traditional

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In the 1920's to 40's, Serbian-American scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla lived out his twilight years having metaphorically wrecked himself on Manhattan Island, bankrupted and broken by a public relations war with Thomas Edison. A staunch believer in the connection between his genius and sexual abstinence, Tesla shunned women, choosing instead to feed and care for street pigeons in his hotel room at the New Yorker. His closest friend was a white dove that visited him every day at his hotel room window. In moments of delirium, Tesla believed this pigeon to have mystical knowledge and the ability to communicate with him, and declared to friends that he was in love with her. One night, the bird flew into Tesla's room close to death, and according to Tesla, a light came from her eyes more intense than that of the most powerful lamps in his laboratory before she died in his arms. Tesla said that at that same moment, he knew his life's work was finished. Tesla's Pigeon is sung from the dove's perspective in these final moments, and explores parallels between the relationship between Tesla and his pigeon, and Prospero and Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest, with text adapted from Ariel's songs, Goethe's Faust, the poetry of George Sylvester Viereck, Serbian traditional song and poetry, and personal letters to Tesla.

Artwork by Robinson Smith.

Visit the official Tesla's Pigeon website.


  • 25 Feb, 2024: Alizbeta Kirby-Kopczynski, soprano, Hanyun Gu, piano at Ciminelli Formal Lounge, Rochester, NY
  • 10 Feb, 2024: Amber Evans, soprano, Jeremy Chan, piano [excerpt] at St. John's in the Village, New York, NY
  • 25 Oct, 2023: Maggie Finnegan at Vanderbilt, Turner Recital Hall, TN
  • 20 May, 2023: Jessica Lennick at Moorestown Library, Moorestown, NJ
  • 29 Nov, 2022: Lisa Wilson DeNolfo, soprano, Dr. Michal Schmidt, pianist at Temple University, Rock Hall, Philadelphia, PA
  • 19 Mar, 2022: Kat Kirby-Kopczynski, soprano, and Hanyun Gu, pianist at Hatch Recital Hall, University of Rochester: Eastman School of Music
  • 13 Mar, 2022: Alize Rozsnyai, soprano and Dan Epsie, piano at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Wilmington, DE
  • 23 Apr, 2021: Victoria Delgado, soprano, Patricia McKewen Amato, piano [excerpt] at Center for the Arts Recital Hall, Towson University, Towson, MD
  • 20 Jun, 2020: Amber Evans at St. John’s in the Village and the Australian Theatre Festival
  • 19 Apr, 2018: Carol Lines and Lina Morita at First United Methodist Church, Lake Charles, LA
  • 08 Sep, 2017 - 09 Sep, 2017: STL Opera Collective (Emily Truckenbrod and Nancy Mayo) at Kranzberg Arts Center, St. Louis, MO
  • 30 Jun, 2017 - 02 Jul, 2017: Chelsea Feltman and Doug Han at Vertical Player Repertory, Behind the Door, Brooklyn, NY
  • 20 Apr, 2017: Alexandra Johnson at Pitman Recital Hall, University of Oklahoma
  • 04 May, 2014: Chelsea Feltman and Joseph Yungen at The Secret Opera, St Anthony's of Padua, New York, NY
  • 14 Jul, 2013: Colleen Gray at International Congress of Voice Teachers, Brisbane, Australia
  • 19 Apr, 2013: Jessica Lennick and Tim Ribchester at NACUSA East Coast Chapter Annual Spring Concert, Christ and St. Stephen’s Church, NYC
  • 17 Sep, 2011 - 18 Sep, 2011: Jessica Lennick and Tim Ribchester at (First Unitarian Church, Voice of this Generation/Philadelphia Fringe Festival
  • 30 Jun, 2011: Colleen Gray and Nanette Kaplan Solomon at National Association of Teachers of Singing Annual Conference, Orlando
  • 19 Mar, 2011: Katherine Price and Genevieve Mason at National NACUSA concert, Portland State University
  • 03 Dec, 2010: Jessica Lennick and Daniel Paul Lawson at Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater's Cabaret Series


  • Boston Metro Opera Merit Award 2013
  • The American Prize - Winner, Chamber Music Division (student category) 2013
  • The Chicago Ensemble Discover America VIII Competition 2013
  • National Association of Teachers of Singing Art Song Composition Award 2012
  • Tesla Science Foundation 2012
  • University of Pennsylvania Hilda K. Nitzsche Composition Prize 2011