Ellen Frankel - Librettist, Writer, Editor, Lecturer, Storyteller

Ellen Frankel has been writing commissioned libretti since 1999. Two pieces by Frankel, “Sarah,” "Miriam," and “Hannah,” were included in Andrea Clearfield’s cantata, Women of Valor, premiered by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony in 2000. In 2010, the Women’s Sacred Music Project commissioned Frankel and Clearfield to write a new movement, “Hagar,” for a chamber version of Women of Valor, which was performed in September 2011 at the Daylesford Abbey and the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia. She was commissioned by soprano Sharon Azrieli to write a monodrama, "The Esther Diaries," with composer Haralabos Stafylakis, which premiered at the Maison Symphonique in Montreal in 2014, accompanied by the McGill Chamber Orchestra.In 2015, WSMP commissioned a new chamber work, "Mothers of Moses," with music by Rene Orth, which will premiere in October 2016 at Rosemont College, and will be part of an interfaith seder at the Germantown Jewish Centre in April 2017. She is currently working with Andrea Clearfield on a new opera, inspired by the legend of the Golem and Karel Capek's classic play, R.U.R.

In 2005, Philadelphia’s prestigious Mendelssohn Club Choir commissioned Clearfield and Frankel to write a new oratorio, The Golem Psalms, inspired by the ancient Jewish legend of the Golem, which premiered at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2006, performed by the Mendelssohn Club and the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, with Sanford Sylvan as baritone soloist. Since its premiere, the oratorio has been performed at Haverford College by the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Choir and Orchestra (April 2007); Indiana University, performed by the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble and the Conductor’s Orchestra, under conductor John Leonard, with Kenneth Pereira as baritone soloist (February 2009); and at Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center, performed by the Temple University Symphony Orchestra and Combined Choirs, conducted by Alan Harler, with Sanford Sylvan again as baritone soloist (March 2010). 

In 2010, Frankel was commissioned by Andrew Kurtz, Artistic Director of Center City Opera Theater in Philadelphia, to write the libretto for a new two-act opera, Slaying the Dragon, based on a true story reported in Kathryn Watterson’s 1996 book, Not By The Sword (reissued by the University of Nebraska Press in a paperback edition in 2012). The work, with music composed by Michael Ching, had its world premiere at the Prince Music Theater and the Academy of Vocal Arts in June 2012 in Philadelphia.

Working with NY composer Leonard Lehrman, Frankel created the libretto for a new chamber opera, The Triangle Fire, which premiered at the American Labor Museum in Haledon, NJ on Labor Day weekend 2016 and at the Puffin Cultural Forum on September 11, 2016. Based on the 2,000 page trial transcript and accompanied by a slideshow of almost 300 slides featuring documentary photographs and pieces of the libretto, the opera focuses on the manslaughter trial of the co-owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which cost the lives of 146 immigrant workers when it caught fire on March 25, 1911. This is the first artistic work to feature the trial and the first opera to focus on the fire. Several more performances are scheduled in Manhattan in March 2017.

Frankel is the author of nine published books of fiction and non-fiction, several edited volumes of stories, and numerous articles. Her published titles include The Classic TalesThe Encyclopedia of Jewish SymbolsThe Five Books of Miriamand The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, which won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. 

In addition to her work as a writer and librettist, Frankel served for 18 years as Editor in Chief and CEO of The Jewish Publication Society, the oldest nondenominational, non-profit publisher of Jewish works in English, and was named its first Editor Emerita upon her retirement in 2009. She received her B.A. from University of Michigan and her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton. 

Frankel has served on several boards and has received numerous awards and honors, including Hadassah's Myrtle Wreath Achievement Award, the Bernard Reisman Professional Excellence Award from Brandeis University, several ASCAP Plus awards, and an Independent Publishers Book Award, for her contribution to Three Testaments: Shalom, Salam, Peaceedited by Brian Brown.

Frankel lives in Philadelphia with her husband, working full-time as a writer, librettist, and editing consultant. She has two children and three grandchildren.



Librettist of Opera and Choral Works

Libretti: I am available to write lyrics for short works for voice and/or chorus, as well as longer pieces such as cantatas and operas.


I am especially interested in truly collaborative projects, involving multiple drafts and close work with the composer.


Initial Queries: Please contact me by email with a short description of your project and an approximate timetable for completion.


Contact Information: 


The Write Angle: Editing and Publishing Services

Editing Services: I offer several levels of non-fiction editing, including 

  • concept edit (manuscript evaluation and critique) 
  • limited collaborative edit
  • line-editing (editing and/or rewriting at the sentence level)

Initial Queries: Please contact me by email with a short description of your manuscript and an explanation of what you want me to do. 

If I am available and think it sounds like a good match, I'll ask you to send me the full or partial manuscript. I prefer to see the project before settling on terms. 

Contact Information: ellen.frankel@gmail.com