Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s 40th season will launch with an extraordinary opener as the company presents the world premiere of its commissioned jazz opera A Gathering of Sons.
The world premiere is a new social justice opera composed by Dwayne Fulton and includes influences of jazz, gospel, and modern-classical music, that bring to life a libretto by Tameka Cage Conley. The opera has been further developed through a series of workshops that have taken place throughout the Pittsburgh area, in addition to highlighting performances from the opera and panel discussions. It will be the 28th world premiere by Pittsburgh Festival opera, and the second commissioned work in the company’s “Music that Matters” series that promotes new operas focusing on contemporary issues.
A Gathering of Sons will take audiences on a mystical journey through the connected lives of Victor, Lockdown—a police officer, and a pair of Black parents. A collection of spirits who watch over the world express the loss and gains of the community and “The Sky That Can’t Stop Seeing” confronts Lockdown shooting an unarmed citizen. The true power that his victim Victor possesses reveals the possibilities of hope and redemption.
“I chose this subject because I felt it was timely and important,” says Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Artistic and General Director Jonathan Eaton, who hopes this world premiere will cast a new light on some societal tensions in addition to ushering in some hope and a prospect of healing. “Racial injustice in our country is a discussion that needs to be had–so why not have it in the opera house, too? Opera needs to respond to the world around us.”
Eaton took strides to ensure that A Gathering of Sons would be especially important to audiences in Pittsburgh. While first considering the engagement of an international composer from Chicago to write the world premiere, Eaton decided that a Pittsburgh team was more necessary to making the extraordinary work matter to the Pittsburgh community. This led him to enlist Dwayne Fulton, Minister of Music at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church—a composer and director that Eaton has worked with before—and local author Dr. Tameka Cage Conley to take on the special project.
A Gathering of Sons promises to be unique in many ways, including musically. The premiere of the production is orchestrated for alto saxophone, four solo strings, piano, keyboard, and drums. “I think that A Gathering of Sons is going to sound like different things to different people,” says Music Director Robert Frankenberry. “Because we’re consciously looking to present a piece at the intersection of several cultural performative traditions, people are naturally going to put labels on the elements of the piece—and I think that’s OK. It’s a true hybrid of musical styles, but it really just sounds like Dwayne Fulton to me—a fantastic musician who truly loves music—and it will be interesting to see what descriptive language audiences will attach to his music.” Composer Fulton will conduct the world premiere.
Sung in English, the production will feature 15 cast members and a chorus of 12. Pittsburgh Festival Opera chose a combination of regional artists that were cast by audition in addition to some professionals who have worked with Eaton and the company previously. Members of the Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Young Professional Artists company will also be featured.
The opera’s setting is raw and unique as well and is under the stage direction of Mark Clayton Southers, founder of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company. “The work is set in an urban world, but it quickly trespasses into a metaphysical world of spirits and ghosts,” says Eaton. “Projection will help to make this transition, but otherwise, the only very special effects in this production are the singing, music, and drama—all of which will speak to one’s heart.”
A Gathering of Sons will tour three Pittsburgh partner venues including Mt. Ararat Baptist Church on Thursday, June 15 and Friday, June 16; Rodef Shalom Temple on Saturday, June 24; and Elise H. Hillman Auditorium, Kaufmann Center of Hill House on June 28 and 29. The opera will take the Falk Auditorium stage on Friday, July 1 and Friday, July 8 as part of Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mainstage program. A short talkback with guest panelists will follow each Festival Mainstage performance. Following the opening night performance on July 1, members of the creative team including Conley, Fulton, Clayton Southers and more, will speak from the stage about the creative journey that led to the world premiere.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.pittsburghfestivalopera.org or call the Box Office at 412.326.9687.
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