Rhiannon Giddens will premiere new original opera at Spoleto Festival USA 2020

"This is a story that hasn’t been represented in the operatic world — or in any world"

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Portrait of "Uncle Moreau" [Omar ibn Said], the subject of Giddens' original opera to premiere at Spoleto in 2020 - RANDOLPH LINSLY SIMPSON AFRICAN AMERICAN COLLECTION, JAMES WELDON JOHNSON MEMORIAL COLLECTION, YALE COLLECTION OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, BEINECKE RARE BOOK & MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY, YALE UNIVERSITY
  • Randolph Linsly Simpson African American Collection, James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University
  • Portrait of "Uncle Moreau" [Omar ibn Said], the subject of Giddens' original opera to premiere at Spoleto in 2020
They don't take a breath over at the Spoleto office, do they? The day after a successful Spoleto Finale (read all about it), today, Mon. June 10, Spoleto has announced the world premiere of an opera slated for next year's festival.

The untitled production, composed by Rhiannon Giddens, is based on the 1831 autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, an African Muslim who was forced into slavery and arrived at Charleston's Gadsden's Wharf in 1807.

Grammy winner and MacArthur Fellow Giddens is described by the festival as a "musical archaeologist known for exploring the legacy of African-American folk traditions, honoring marginalized artists, and drawing from historical documents to create original material."



Giddens is one of the founding members of the folk band Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Rhiannon Giddens - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Rhiannon Giddens
She's a natural fit to mold this story, which will premiere in the newly renovated Sottile Theatre next year. The production is co-commissioned and co-produced by Spoleto and Carolina Performing Arts at UNC Chapel Hill.

In an announcement about the opera, Giddens said: "My work as a whole is about excavating and shining a light on pieces of history that not only need to be seen and heard, but that can also add to the conversation about what’s going on now. This is a story that hasn't been represented in the operatic world — or in any world."

Giddens has carried out extensive research and studied with numerous religious leaders and scholars to create the opera's libretto. The composition will feature a cast of seven, a small chorus, and orchestra, and the work will be conducted by the festival's resident conductor and director of orchestral activities, John Kennedy.

Director Charlotte Brathwaite will also help with the opera. In a press release Brathwaite said: "When we speak of 'slaves,' we often neglect to think of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, scholars, doctors, teachers, healers — human begins with full lives. But there were people who could read and write, people with deep connections to traditions and culture, and people who felt — despite their physical shackles — a deep sense of pride."

Check out the full press release (and read up on the opera in the NYT) on the Spoleto website.

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