Saturday, June 16, 2007

"Strange Fruit," beautiful music

The Long Leaf Opera Festival's world premiere of "Strange Fruit," last night in Memorial Hall, was wonderful. Intense, difficult at times to watch, it is beautifully written and performed. Librettist Joan Ross Sorkin tells how it came about:

The development of the opera began in 2000 when I was introduced to the 1944 novel by Lillian Smith when a friend discovered a letter from Ms. Smith in her mother’s papers after her death. I was immediately smitten with Ms. Smith’s work and began writing a musical book based on the novel, which I would eventually turn into the libretto for the opera. As I wrote, it became more and more apparent from the intense passions of the characters and the sweeping historical context of the story that the material was suited more for opera than musical theatre. I was introduced to Chandler Carter who was the ideal composer, having grown up in the South with a strong interest in the African-American experience. Chandler had just completed his opera, No Easy Walk To Freedom based on the life of Nelson Mandela and was eager to tackle issues of race closer to home. Our collaboration was sealed in 2002, and we began in earnest to develop the opera. We applied to New York City Opera’s VOX developmental program for new work, and the piece was accepted. Strange Fruit became part of the NYCity Opera’s VOX 2003: A Showcase of American Composers, and Ben Keaton, Music Director of Long Leaf Opera, was in the audience. Kismet!

Composer Chandler Carter, director Randolph Umberger, and actors Erika Newkirk and Charles Stanton were interviewed June 14 on "The State of Things."

There's only one more performance: tomorrow at 2 p.m. Go if you can.

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