Saturday morning, November 14, 10:00–11:30 CST
Special Session: Black Lives Matter in Music: A Conversation with Tazewell Thomson, Librettist of 'Blue'
Steve Swayne (Dartmouth), Moderator
Naomi Andre and Richard Desinord, Panelists
Tazewell Thompson (Manhattan School of Music), Special Guest
Recent events have improbably brought together two historical milestones that began in the seventeenth century in different parts of the world.
1619 saw the first enslaved women and men from the African continent arrive on a continent that was being overrun by Europeans. The history of the United States in particular chronicles slave catchers, lynchings, and the "New Jim Crow" war on drugs (including the overly high incarceration rates for Black and Brown bodies), all predicates to the police violence that has become an inescapably trenchant issue today.
At the moment that enslaved Africans were making their Middle Passage, opera-a genre that routinely links political themes with passion and emotion-saw its birth on the Italian peninsula. The "grand tradition" was initially considered to end with the death of Puccini in 1924; since then, Benjamin Britten, George Benjamin, and other British composers have brought forth new English-language operas. American composers have also been at the forefront of this renaissance of the operatic tradition over the last one hundred years.
While opera has always had connections to contemporaneous politics, recent operas have told new stories about unrepresented groups. Centering the experience of opera inside the Zeitgeist of the Black Lives Matter movement is Blue, a two-act chamber opera composed by Jeanine Tesori with the story and libretto by Tazewell Thompson. Blue tells the story of a comfortable Black family where the entrepreneur chef Mother and police officer Father await the birth of their first child, a son. As the Son grows in his teenage years to become an artist, he is killed by a White policeman at a peaceful protest gone wrong. The opera traces this family and their community through the joy of birth and the horror of funeral rites for a murder.