The gospel of Matthew in the Christian Bible speaks of three wise men, sometimes called kings, who followed a shining star to the birthplace of Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem. Few details are given in this account, but over the centuries history has evolved to provide names in common use today – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, the African magus.
It is Balthazar who, at the crib, presents the gift of myrrh, a fragrant resin, foreshadowing the death of the child. And it was her role that inspired Harlen Renaissance composer Margaret Bonds to collaborate with Langston Hughes to celebrate a man of color who was part of the story of Jesus’ birth. Their work premiered on December 12, 1954 with Bonds at the piano. Bonds and Hughes continued their collaboration, producing a fully orchestrated version that aired on CBS Television in 1960. This Christmas special was dedicated to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
On the same date as the premiere, but 67 years later, the Syracuse Opera House will present “The Ballad of the Brown King” at the Tucker Missionary Baptist Church in Syracuse. General and artistic director Christian Capocaccia will lead the Syracuse Opera Chorus, singing together again for the first time since 2019, when Covid prevented vocal performances. Guest soloists will be Kearstin Piper Brown, soprano; Danan Tsan, mezzo-soprano, and Jeremiah Abiah, tenor, with Theresa Chen on piano. Guest choir singers from area churches and the Syracuse Community Chorus will join the group on “Now Behold the Lamb” and the “Hallelujah Chorus”.
This is the second collaboration between Syracuse Opera and Tucker Baptist Missionary Church. It follows the successful staging of “No Cowards in Our Band” and continues the effort to make opera accessible to everyone by offering performances in the community.
Chief Pastor Reverend Decarto D. Draper welcomes the partnership and invites visitors to the church for this performance. The church follows all protocols for safe gatherings, including proof of vaccination at the door and wearing masks inside.
Gregory Sheppard, Syracuse Opera Community Outreach and Engagement Manager, said the partnership is important as a way to reach new audiences with the power and beauty of opera.
“We look forward to performing this beautiful and important work and returning to Tucker to share it with music lovers in Syracuse.” Sheppard said. “It’s a perfect way for the Syracuse Opera to mark the Advent season and celebrate the legacy we have of two mid-20th century American artists.”
who: Syracuse Opera House
What: “The Ballad of the Brown King”
Or: Tucker Baptist Missionary Church, 515 Oakwood Ave., Syracuse
When: A performance on 12 Dec. at 15h
Duration: One hour and 15 minutes; no intermission
Tickets: Free, but must be reserved in advance at https://www.syracuseopera.org
Covid Protocols: Proof of vaccination at the door; masks and limited places
Car park: Free in the adjacent lot