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The Darkest Light in the Heart

The opera The Darkest Light in the Heart explores a black woman's struggle to forgive or condemn a white man who shot and killed her mother.


What goes through a woman’s mind when the one she loves the most is senselessly shot down? Grief? Anger? Rage? Madness? Revenge? The Darkest Light in the Heart explores a black woman’s struggle to forgive or condemn a white man who shot and killed her mother and others in a black church. With God and Satan wagering on the fate of Joanne’s journey, the stakes are not only for her soul but the soul of a nation.

The opera explores the aftermath of the tragic shooting by Dylann Roof in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The opera is conceived for a large chamber ensemble with electronics, with six principle characters and a chorus of the dead. The collaborators include Anthony Davis, composition, Steven Fechter, libretto and Earl Howard, electronic composition and sound design with Beth Greenberg as dramaturg/director.

Action opens in aftermath of a mass murder in a black church. The Confessed Killer is a young, white man. One of the victims is Joanne’s mother Lucille. We first see Joanne sing of her blinding bitterness and rage and with “murder in my mouth.” God and Satan, looking down on the tragic event, make a wager: Will Joanne forgive the Confessed Killer? If Joanne doesn’t her soul goes to Satan. The answer will arrive the next morning when Joanna and other family members of the victims confront the Confessed Killer in the courtroom. To ensure he wins the wager, Satan sends an Angel to Joanna. The celestial messenger offers the distraught Joanne a magic invisible gun, “an answer to your prayers.” Joanne takes it. At home Joanne’s traumatized sister Tanya hasn’t left her room since the killings. Into the long night Joanne is beset by nightmares; startling visits from God and Satan; and a calling by the handsome new church Reverend, which ends disastrously. In mad desperation, Joanne flees into the woods. There she is confronted by the terrifying ghost of her mother, a weakened God, and an emboldened Satan. Tanya surprisingly arrives and takes Joanne home. Next morning at the courtroom, the handcuffed Confessed Killer is brought in to face the family members. Joanne is first. She takes out her invisible gun, prepared to shoot this “twisted, ignorant dumbass boy” with a “heart filled only with hate.” The all-consuming hate Joanne sings of is “the darkest light in the heart.” Seeing her own hate reflected in the boy’s eyes, Joanne is unable to fire the bullets into the boy’s body. Joanne forgives the confessed Killer and collapses. God rejoices. Satan is punished. The Reverend lifts Joanne up. The last song is sung by Joanne and the entire cast, who darkly warn us that it is not the boy on trial. It is hatred. It is America.

The opera will have its world premiere at Spoleto USA in Charleston, South Carolina in the spring of 2020. There are plans for a workshop with American Opera Projects in the January of 2019.

Project Media

FIVE, an opera about the Central Park Five Overture and Opening aria by the Masque
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Watch from 1’22” – 5’22”

This is the opening of the opera FIVE by Anthony Davis with libretto by Richard Wesley. The piece was presented at NJPAC in Newark, New Jersey on November 12, 2016. The opera tells the story of the Central Park Five who were falsely convicted in the notorious rape case of the Central Park jogger. The character, The Masque, enters in the guise of a reporter who describes Harlem. I chose this excerpt to demonstrate the relationship of my work to the African American tradition and showcase my work with Earl Howard.

Lear on the 2nd Floor, Act I, scene 5
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Features: Anthony Davis

This is an excerpt from my opera Lear on the 2nd Floor, an opera loosely based on King Lear. Nora Lear, played by Susan Narucki, is a neurologist suffering from early onset dementia. In this scene she fantasizes about her escape from the 2nd Floor of long term care facility. Her nurse, played by Jorell Williams entertains her with stories about a cab driver and death. This excerpt explores the comic side of my music with the reggae/ska parody. We hope to engage Jorell Williams in the role of GOD in future productions of the opera.

Wakonda’s Dream, Act II, scene 2 by Anthony Davis, music and Yusef Komunyakaa, libretto
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This excerpt from Wakonda’s Dream by composer Anthony Davis and librettist Yusef Komunyakaa features Phyllis Pancella as Dolores and Eugene Perry, Justin, as a married couple in trouble. The scene begins as a tender duet, “In the Quiet of Darkness” that is an attempt at reconciliation but ultimately fails. Eugene Perry as Justin in “Is It Too Late for Us” wonders if he is lost in his obsession with the “White Coyote.” The scene concludes with Kurzweil magic from Earl Howard as the chorus echoes the word “coyote.”
Lyricism – Electronics

Start and End Dates



Charleston, South Carolina

Project Created By

San Diego, California
Opera News has called Anthony Davis, “A National Treasure,” for his pioneering work in opera. His music has made an important contribution not only in opera, but in chamber, choral and orchestral music. He has been on the cutting edge of improvised music and Jazz for over four decades. Anthony Davis continues to explore new…

In Collaboration With

Sound Composition and Design
Sunnyside, New York
New York, New York
New York, New York


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