Editor’s note: This performance has been postponed due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.
OperaCreole founder Givonna Joseph arranged a combination of “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the band to sing at the Jan. 10 inauguration of Mayor LaToya Cantrell at Gallier Hall. It was the group’s first live appearance since the pandemic began.
The event was also a precursor to its first performance of the year, a delayed 10th anniversary celebration featuring black songwriters and singers and civil rights and voting rights leaders.
“A lot of people don’t know that some of our civil rights leaders were trained opera singers or classically trained pianists,” Joseph says. “A lot of what people think of as a separate, elitist world of opera isn’t exactly the case. We were involved in the fight. (OperaCreole) wanted to celebrate these things. Coretta Scott King was a classically trained singer. She gave concerts and raised funds for the movement.
The anniversary celebration takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, January 21 at the Laurenia Space of the Pythian Market, a space used for classical music performances when the Pythian Building was a hub of black society in New York. Orleans in the early 1900s. The program features arias from various operas, including Joseph’s work “The Lions of Reconstruction”, about 19th century New Orleansers of color who fought for freedom and demanded to President Abraham Lincoln the right to vote.
There are also pieces by contemporary black female composers, including Nkieru Okoye’s “Harriet Tubman” and Cynthia Cozette Lee’s “Adea,” an opera about a working-class black family. There are also tracks from local librettist Dan Shore’s ‘Freedom Ride’, Joyce Solomon Moorman’s ‘Pathway to Freedom’ and songs by Florence Price, Margaret Bonds and others.
The show was originally scheduled to celebrate the inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris last year, but had to be postponed due to the pandemic. The program is structured to follow a historical timeline, from opera and classical music related to the Louisiana Colony to the 1913 Women’s Rights March in Washington, DC, to the present day.
It also pays tribute to famous black singer Marian Anderson, who – after the Daughters of the American Revolution stopped her from singing at Constitution Hall because she was black – gave a historic outdoor performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. The program also recognizes singer Paul Robeson, civil rights leaders Bayard Ruston, who was a trained singer, and journalist and pianist Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
“We’re looking at black suffragettes, women who fought for the right to vote, fought in the civil rights movement, from Ida B. Wells to locals like Sybil Morial,” Joseph says.
Joseph and his daughter Aria Mason, the company’s production manager, founded OperaCreole in 2010 to showcase classical music and operatic works by composers of color. Its inaugural performance took place in 2011 at the Vieux Couvent des Ursulines. The group revived and premiered works by famous and lesser-known black composers. It featured the first production since the 1903 Parisian debut of “La Flamenca” by Lucien Lambert, the son of New Orleans composer Charles Lucien Lambert. It also featured Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s lost opera, “Thelma,” and works by New Orleans-born Edmond Dede.
“We broke down a lot of barriers in terms of things that hadn’t come to light before,” Joseph says. “I’m most proud of that.”
The group performed Scott Joplin’s ragtime opera “Treemonisha” at Music Box Village, and Joseph premiered “The Lions of Reconstruction” for the city’s tercentenary.