The Latest Update
FIVE world premiere at NJPAC, November 12th, 2016
I have been busy orchestrating FIVE and I am excited that the piano-vocal score is complete and we are moving forward to the rehearsals this Fall. The opera features Donald Trump as a character. His political career really began with his actions against the Central Park Five in 1989 and his all too familiar campaign of racial and cultural division was evident in his response to the Central Park jogger case. I am excited to collaborate with some outstanding improvisers including Earl Howard on the Kurzweil, who will collaborate with me on the sound elements in the piece, J.D. Parran on contra-alto clarinet and clarinet, Mark Helias on bass and Pheeroan Aklaff on drums. The opera is conceived for chamber orchestra, vocal soloists and chorus. I would like to thank New Music USA for their support of the project as well as the Map Fund and Kevin Maynor and Trilogy: An Opera Company.
Donald Trump and the Central Park Five: the racially charged rise of a demagogue
This is an article from The Guardian about Donald Trump and the Central Park Five. Here is the genesis of his political career with the recurring theme of racial division and hate. Donald Trump appears as a character in the opera FIVE.
FIVE is an opera with a libretto by Richard Wesley that investigates the Central Park Five, the five young African American boys who were falsely convicted of the rape and assault of a young white woman in Central Park. The piece will be created with the Newark Boys Choir and the Trilogy Opera Company and will involve my interaction with teenagers in the African American communities in Newark. Recently the Newark Boys choir participated in an initial workshop with Trilogy Opera. The music in the opera will draw from a wide range of influences from the funk of Sly and the Family Stone to the early hip hop of Public Enemy, the Jazz expression of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis to the operatic influences of Stravinsky, Berg and Britten all in my uniquely individual voice. I am hoping that this piece will play an important role in understanding where we are after “Ferguson” and how such incidents of racial injustice are rooted in racial fear and hatred.
In my career as a composer I have devoted myself to the creation of works that bring to light issues of political and social significance. Particularly my operas have addressed pivotal events and figures in American history with a focus on the issues of race and justice. My first opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X premiered at New York City Opera in 1986 and was a revolutionary work both in subject matter and musical content. The work treated Malcolm X as a tragic hero who negotiates profound changes of identity from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X and El Hajj Malik el Shabazz. The music revealed Malcolm’s odyssey through the parallel evolution of African American music drawing from the music of the 1940’s to the Avant-Garde expression of the 1960’s all synthesized into an original, singular musical voice. An opera on this scale integrating Jazz and Classical music within a powerful theatrical experience had never been attempted before.
I continued to explore the political realm in several of my other operas, including Tania, based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, Amistad, based on the rebellion and subsequent trial of Mende captives, Wakonda’s Dream based on the trial of Standing Bear in the 1870’s and Lilith, a meditation on Adam’s first wife and the eternal conflict of man and woman. It should be noted that both operas X and Amistad preceded the films by Spike Lee and Stephen Spielberg. All these works indicate my continued and sustained concern with our ongoing political struggle. These pivotal events in our history offer windows into understanding who we are today and how we arrived at our present situation. The slogan, “Black Lives Matter” is not only an important political statement but it also the central focus in my work as an artist and composer.
X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Act I, Scene 3 “You Want the Truth, But You Don’t Want to Know,” Malcolm’s Aria.
Malcolm Little is under interrogation by the police for robbery. There is a spotlight on him as he sits in a chair. There are no questions as he tells his story. The aria ends Act I. This an excerpt from my first opera, X and is an expression of rage against racism that is inescapable, recurring through generations. Thulani Davis wrote the libretto and Eugene Perry plays the role of Malcolm.
This is Act II, Scene 6 from a live performance of the opera Amistad by Anthony Davis and Thulani Davis sung by Florence Quivar with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Goddess of the Waters tells the story of the “Middle Passage” from the perspective of the ocean as she receives the bodies of slaves tossed overboard. For the Goddess these actions not only are immoral but literally a violation of her body. The aria moves through contrasting musical sections from the orchestral introduction to recitative and aria in a dramatic musical narrative.
This is the 2nd movement, LOSS, from YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, my concerto for clarinet/contra-alto clarinet, Kurzweil and ensemble featuring J.D. Parran on contra-alto clarinet, Earl Howard on Kurzweil, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project with Gil Rose, conductor. The piece is conceived in two contrasting sections bridged by an improvised duet with J.D. Parran and Earl Howard. The piece is an example of how I integrate improvisation in my compositions. The last section of the piece starting at 4’14” is a homage to Charles Mingus.
Start and End Dates
11/01/2016 — 11/20/2016
Newark, New Jersey