Opera “We Shall Not Be Moved”

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lennygoran
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Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
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Opera “We Shall Not Be Moved”

Post by lennygoran » Sat Sep 16, 2017 7:52 am

I noticed this will also be done in NYC as well as Philly--also London. Regards, Len

A Police Bombing, Homes on Fire and an Opera That Grapples With It All

By SALAMISHAH TILLET SEPT. 15, 2017


PHILADELPHIA — The scars are still there.

On May 13, 1985, the police bombed a rowhouse in West Philadelphia that was the home of Move, a group of radical black separatists who had already had several standoffs with the authorities. The bombing led to a cataclysmic fire that killed six adults and five children and destroyed dozens of homes. Many of those buildings remain boarded up today.

Now, more than 30 years on, when the country is still grappling with racial inequality and police violence, a new opera, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” tries to contend with the ghosts of that tragedy.

Created by the composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and the librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph and directed by the acclaimed choreographer Bill T. Jones, the work plays with genre and form, hoping to stretch our expectations of what opera is and can be. It will have its premiere on Saturday as one of the highlights of O17, Opera Philadelphia’s first-ever fall festival.

Set in contemporary Philadelphia, the work tells the story of a group of orphans who flee the violence, police brutality and school closings that plague their largely working-class, African-American neighborhoods and seek refuge in an abandoned house. “This is my body,” declares Un/Sung, the 15-year-old heroine. “Colored. Girl. Exposed to touch. Or trash. I’m from North Philadelphia. Of the wrong class. Of the wrong caste.”


The house, it turns out, is the former headquarters of Move. And the spirits of the children who died in the fire, called OGs (for Original Ghosts), haunt it, sending messages to the new inhabitants: Un/Sung (the spoken-word poet Lauren Whitehead) and an interracial group of young men all named John, in a nod to Move’s founder, John Africa. But each John is different — in last name, voice and story. John Blue (the countertenor John Holiday), for example, is a transgender boy, while John Little (the tenor Daniel Shirley), given Malcolm X’s original surname, is white but aligns himself with his African-American peers.


Opera remains an overwhelmingly white field, but “We Shall Not Be Moved” is the rare work in the genre to be created by artists of color: Mr. Roumain and Mr. Joseph are Haitian-American; Mr. Jones is African-American; and the conductor, Viswa Subbaraman, is Indian-American.

They, in turn, got their inspiration from the classroom. The piece was commissioned by Opera Philadelphia several years ago after a series of workshops with student poets from Philadelphia public schools.

“The kids wrote about either hyper-capitalism or hyper-survival,” Mr. Joseph said in an interview. “There wasn’t dreaming in those poems.”


The despair of today’s kids, the opera seems to suggest, is rooted in part in the similarities that persist since the time of the bombing, an era that allowed the police to attack its own citizens. A commission investigating the confrontation concluded in 1986 that dropping a bomb on an occupied house was “unconscionable,” and all but one member said that the police would not have done so “had the Move house and its occupants been situated in a comparable white neighborhood.” Despite the scathing report, no criminal charges were filed against the police or fire commissioner, or the mayor, W. Wilson Goode.

The best-known artistic meditation on the bombing may be John Edgar Wideman’s 1990 novel, “The Philadelphia Fire,” a blend of memoir and fiction. But it may be hard to imagine that opera can tackle such a crushing, still-current topic.

“Is the form of opera appropriate for this subject matter?” Mr. Jones, the director, asked, before talking about the piece’s fantastical elements: “There is a straining-reality to opera. It is place where atypical things can be proposed and worked through.”

But “We Shall Not Be Moved” also attempts to bend the genre toward its subject matter. Most striking is the use of spoken-word poetry.

“Marc’s words are musical,” Mr. Roumain said. “It is an epic poem as much as it is a libretto. Bill calls it a ‘choreopoem’ because Marc’s libretto has very specific instructions for how dance functions in the piece.”

Set against video portraits projected in the background, Mr. Joseph’s modern and hip-hop choreography emphasizes the performers’ bodies. The fluid, virtuosic, largely voiceless OGs act as a kind of dancing Greek chorus.

“I listened to a lot of Philly soul albums from the 1960s and 1970s while working on this piece,” Mr. Roumain said. The result is a musical collage of gospel, funk, jazz, R&B, hip-hop and classical styles.

“Many times we see artists who are stepping outside their genre, or living within it, and feel confined and conflicted by it,” said Kamilah Forbes, the executive producer of the Apollo Theater in New York, where the piece will open on Oct. 6 before traveling to the Hackney Empire in London on Oct. 14. “They might tell themselves, ‘I need to build an opera, therefore the songs must be in Italian, my climax has to look a certain way, my libretto has to sound a this way.’”

But “We Shall Not Be Moved,” she said, represented “such an authentic way to make art. Quite frankly, this is not just the future of opera, but it is the past, present and future of African-American cultural expression, too.”

We Shall Not Be Moved
Runs through Sept. 24 at the Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, then at the Apollo Theater in New York starting Oct. 6 and the Hackney Empire in London starting Oct. 14; operaphila.org.




https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/15/arts ... ction&_r=0

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