Short-run Opera showcases Civil Rights Movement activists
17th October 2011 · 0 Comments
By Travis M. Andrews
The Louisiana Weekly
Opera and civil rights aren’t usually spoken in the same breath, until Thursday.
Dan Shore, assistant professor of theory in the Xavier department of music, premiers three vignettes from this commissioned concert opera “Freedom Rides” on Wednesday, October 20, at Longue Vue House and Gardens’ annual gala and at a public performance in the same location on Saturday, Oct. 22.
The play follows the story of a young African-American woman named Sylvie Davenport in 1961 who is in the midst of deciding to either stay in college or joining the Freedom riders.
“As reports of beatings and mob violence in Mississippi reach New Orleans, Sylvie’s mother forbids her from riding the buses, fearing for her safety and warning her that she stands to forfeit her scholarship if she is arrested,” according to a press release. “Torn between pursuing her academic career and joining the Civil Rights Movement, Sylvie’s story of self-realization and love highlights the courage and sacrifice of those who pursue social justice.”
The Freedom Riders were historical civil rights activists who rode segregated buses on the interstate from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana to test the results of two specific United States Supreme Court Cases: Boynton v. Virginia, which outlawed racial segregation in bus stop terminals, and Morgan v. Virginia. The largest Freedom Ride took place from May 4, 1961 to May 17, 1961.
Along the way, the Freedom Riders encountered mob violence and, at the time, recently un-constitutional arrests (in Alabama and Mississippi, respectively), but their spirit reportedly never failed with the twelve arrested still singing freedom songs, even when placed in maximum confinement, according to the Associated Press.
The play was commissioned by Long Vue House and Gardens to showcase the bravery of the Freedom Riders, to educate the general public of these courageous individuals who the Kennedys once called unpatriotic for riding during the height of Cold War fever, according to national Public Radio.
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“Longue Vue founders Edith and Edgar Stern commissioned new works, supported emerging artists and engaged the community in social justice discourse,” said executive director Joe Baker. “Freedom Rides” continues the Sterns’ legacy and reinvigorates the museum’s commitment to offering lively, contemporary programs that are significant to the New Orleans community.”
Baker said he wanted to create a socially significant work that tied into the city of New Orleans when Shore began researching the Freedom Rides and quickly became impressed by the civil rights heros. Shore knew he had to craft his commissioned opera around these men and women.
“Who was the person who had the guts to do this? What is that process? When I thought about that I realized I had my opera,” Shore said.
“The 2011 recipient of the ‘Gambit’s’ Big Easy Entertainment Award for Creative Achievement in Opera, Shore’s other operas and plays include ‘An Embarrassing Position,’ ‘Travel,’ and ‘The Beautiful Bridegroom,’ which was awarded first prize in the National Opera Association’s Chamber Opera Composition Competition and has been produced over a dozen times across the country,” according to a press release. “He is an alumnus of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and a Fulbright scholar; he holds a B.M. and M.M. from the New England Conservatory and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York.”
The site-specific opera features internationally acclaimed soloists: Dara Rahming as a soprano, Valerie Jones Francis as a second soprano, Chauncey Packer as a tenor and Anthony Zoeller as a baritone. The soloists are accompanied by pianist Wilfred Delphin and the Xavier University of Louisiana Concert Choir, directed by John Ware.
Tickets for patrons more than 35 years old are $75. Patrons under 35 years old are eligible for “Catalyst” reservations. These tickets cost $35, and student tickets are $10 with a valid student id. To purchase student tickets, one should contact Chris Bowers at (504) 293-4719 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seating is limited. Reservations are required.
This article was originally published in the October 17, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper