Friday, October 25, 2019

Spoleto Festival USA names original opera, "Omar", based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said

"Shining a light on pieces of history"

Posted by Connelly Hardaway on Fri, Oct 25, 2019 at 11:49 AM

click to enlarge 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
Today Spoleto Festival USA released the name of their original opera, premiering at next year's festival, commissioned by Grammy Award winner Rhiannon Giddens and based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, an enslaved Muslim-African man who was brought to Charleston in 1807.

The opera will be called Omar.

Tracing Said's spiritual journey from Africa to his capture and enslavement in the Carolinas, Omar is a team effort from a number of artists including Giddens, composer Michael Abels, fest director Nigel Redden, director of orchestral activities John Kennedy, and more.

It seems fitting that the name of this opera would be released today, Fri. Oct. 25, the same day of the groundbreaking of Charleston's International African American Museum. The museum will be constructed on the site of Gadsden's Wharf, where up to 40 percent of American slaves, including Said, came to America.

click to enlarge Omar conductor John Kennedy (center) rehearses with composer/librettist Rhiannon Giddens and musicians before a music development workshop in New York City, September 18, 2019. Co-composer Michael Abels (seated, foreground) reads along with the score. - COURTESY SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA
  • Courtesy Spoleto Festival USA
  • Omar conductor John Kennedy (center) rehearses with composer/librettist Rhiannon Giddens and musicians before a music development workshop in New York City, September 18, 2019. Co-composer Michael Abels (seated, foreground) reads along with the score.

Earlier this year Giddens spoke about the importance of Said's story: "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."

Interested in how the opera is coming together? Spoleto's director of artistic planning and operations, Nicole Taney, answers some questions on the fest's blog.

Learn more about Spoleto Festival USA online at spoletousa.org

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