We’re in Our (Black) Opera Era

Leticia Ridley: Welcome to Daughters of Lorraine, a podcast from your friendly neighborhood, Black feminists, exploring the legacies, present and futures of Black theatre. We are your hosts, Leticia Ridley.

Jordan Ealey: And Jordan Ealey. On this podcast produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide, we discuss Black theatre history; conduct interviews with local and national Black theatre artists, scholars and practitioners; and discuss plays by Black playwrights that have our minds buzzing.

What can the form of opera do for Black people? How can Black artists employ this musical genre to stage our complex histories? These are the kind of questions that, perhaps, enter into the room when Anthony, Thulani, and Christopher Davis all begin writing and composing their opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

First premiering at the New York City Opera in 1986, the opera is described by the Met as “a new staging that imagines Malcolm as an everyman whose story transcends time and space.”

Leticia: In late 2023, the Opera received a new staging at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. This comes two years after Terence Blanchard became the first Black composer to have an opera produced at the Met with his piece Fire Shut Up in My Bones, with the lush sweeping score and visionary staging by critically acclaimed director-playwright Robert O’Hara. X provides new possibilities for Black performance and artistry, specifically within the operatic genre.

Jordan and I each watched the opera’s theatrical release, and on today’s episode, delve into themes of time and space in this production and briefly discuss our introduction to the world of Black opera.

Hello folks. Welcome back to another episode of Daughters of Lorraine. This is our episode back fresh off the holidays and our subsequent breaks that we both respectively had. Jordan, how was your holiday season?

Jordan: Holidays are good. Got to come on down to Georgia, where I’m from. I don’t think I’ve mentioned on this podcast before. I’m just kidding. It was nice to thaw out. For those of you all who may remember, both Leticia and I pretty much live in the same area of, well, you’re in Toronto and I’m in Rochester, but for all intents and purposes, we live in the same region, and it is cold. It is cold. It was really nice to come back to Georgia and thaw out a little bit. How was your holidays?

Leticia: My holidays was good. Great time with the family, was able to relax a little bit, get some time away from work, but I’m glad to be back in Toronto even with the snow that is falling outside of my window and my aversion to traveling in snow that I need to get over, but that’s neither here nor there.

We are so excited to chat about a filmed version of the Met Opera’s X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X that we both respectively had an opportunity to see before we traveled home for the holidays—on the same day at different theatres, and we were texting back and forth during the intermissions—via the Met’s Live HD series, which for those of you who may not know, the Met has theatrical releases of their operas.

It’s not like a regular film where it’s going to be showing for two or three weeks. You kind of have to really be on top of when the Met Live HD series is going to be coming to a theatre near you, but this was both of our first times having the opportunity to see an opera in this way.

Let me tell you, Met, you all have this whole digital theatre thing down because let me tell you, fantastic on so many levels: the way that it was edited, the way that you utilize intermissions with interviews from the creative team and the cast, and then also, it was the sound and the filming, I think was really great.

Jordan: Absolutely. I totally agree. Many people in our field of study in theatre and specifically performance studies, we all have had this ongoing debate about liveness and capturing and all these different… mediation and what that does to the experience of theatre, but for the ways that they utilize this film production, I really did feel like I was there in so many way. I mean, I didn’t feel like I was actually at the production, but it felt like I was really seeing theatre. I really felt like I was kind of ingratiated into the space.

Also, just as an educational tool, like you said, the use of the interview was really great. They were done, if you didn’t know, by Angela Bassett, which I was so… I did not know this going into the movie. I’m not sure if that was announced anywhere on the website or anything when I booked my ticket, but I was like, “Oh my goodness! Is that Angela? Is that Angela Bassett?” That was a wonderful surprise.

Also, she’s an incredible interviewer. I want to say that because just because you’re an actor, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great interviewer, but she was very talented at interviewing folks, and I thought that people’s responses to the questions were really well thought out and gave you just more context for it, especially for someone like me who is really new to this form of opera.

I do want to say, Leticia, we said it a little bit in the episode preview about this being an introduction, but just kind of generally, what is your experience with opera? Do you have any kind of prior relationship with it?

Leticia: I’m going to be honest with you, my experience is zero. I felt that sitting in the theatre. I will say though, there is an unsung hero of an opera that I think a lot of people would not place in this category that I love. If you know me, you know I love this, it’s called Carmen: A Hip Hopera, starring none other than Beyonce, (rapping) sweetness flowing like a faucet, body banging, no corset. Oh, don’t get me started. Don’t get me started. That’s my jam.

I was really watching this with no sort of prior knowledge of the genre of opera, having any expectations of what this would be like. I really entered into the theatre ready to experience a new form and understand how Blackness and the form of opera relates to one another, especially a story about Malcolm X.

I think one of the interesting questions that comes up specifically with X, the opera, is around why an opera and not a musical theatre piece, which the creators of the opera talked a bit about during the interviews that were aired during intermission.

How about yourself, Jordan?

Jordan: I don’t have a ton of experience with opera, but I have seen one opera before this. I had seen one opera live in my life and that was Blue, which is the opera, the music was done by Jeanine Tesori, and it was premiered at the Kennedy Center. I believe it was a commission for the Kennedy Center. That talked about police brutality, and chronicled with the life of a victim of police brutality and the belief… Also the libretto and direction, if I’m not mistaken, was done by Tazewell Thompson.

That was kind of my only experiencing opera live when I saw that opera at the Kennedy Center, not literally earlier, I guess now it’s 2024, but early in 2023 as a dissertation break, I allowed myself some time to go see an opera, and I was surprised at how much I really just didn’t know about the form sitting there and watching it. It was really interesting.

I couldn’t tell you what the kind of intricacies of what they were doing kind of dramaturgically or anything like that was because I’m not kind of familiar with the traditions of opera, but it was a really fascinating learning experience. As someone who writes about musical theatre, it is opera-adjacent in many ways. There’s some people, for example, who would consider something like Hamilton to be an opera more than a musical. I think that the boundaries between all these different genres are incredibly thin, but yeah, that’s really my experience with this.

Actually, X came into my purview because I know Thulani Davis mainly as a poet and as a historian actually, but was not actually familiar with her work as a librettist. Seeing that this was coming to the Met, but also that it was being streamed across the world, was really exciting. Though we are not experts in opera, I want to preface this episode by saying that we thought it was important for us to kind of broaden our horizons and look at what this particular form is doing.

Leticia: Absolutely. I’ll also just say, Thulani Davis, if you ever listen to Daughters of Lorraine, we would love to have you on as a guest just because, one, you have a storied career as a historian, but now discovering that you are a librettist is amazing. I’m excited to dive into your work more, both as a poet and a librettist as well.

I will also say, preface—thank you for the preface Jordan because we are not experts by any means—but I would like to acknowledge Naomi Andre’s book, Black Opera: History, Power and Engagement. It was absolutely vital in preparing for this episode to give us a sort of skeleton of Black opera and help us sort of situate X within a longer tradition than either of us were aware of prior to preparing for this episode and/or seeing X. I just want to sort of shout out Naomi Andre’s book, and of course, it’s going to be in our reading list that we offer at the end of the episode, but I just wanted to foreground that because a lot of the research that we did for this episode is directly from the research that Naomi Andre completed.

In Naomi Andre’s book, she really cites her own experience as being a Black opera lover. She cites many particular instances where she attended opera, but she focuses on, at the beginning of the book, on a 2012 production at the Met of Verdi’s Otello, which I think for us English speakers is Othello, where there was a white South African actor who was in the starring role who wore blackface.

I will say that my tangential knowledge of opera, if we can even call it that, has often been around opera’s relationship to blackface and understanding that blackface, the tradition, had been in opera for a very long time, and if I’m not mistaken, in some regions of the world, is still being practiced within the operatic form.

She’s sort of situating how it is to experience this blackface. Even though she had encountered it a lot in her own experiences of seeing a lot of operas, what does it mean when she attended this with one of her colleagues that she was working on something else with, and they started asking questions about the tradition of blackface within opera.

I think that’s an important place to start this conversation with, which is I think definitely a critical component of the genre of opera itself, but also thinking about how potentially X fits in or differs from this tradition and what happens when you have a Black composer, a Black librettist, a Black book writer writing the form of opera and how that pushes the boundaries of what we know can show up about Blackness in the form of opera.

These spaces are not constructed to welcome in Black people, but this incredible, operatic, classically trained voice is one that we know very well.

Jordan: That was really also one of the main, that I encountered when it came to opera, was the ways in which Blackness was erased and invisiblized in particular ways in this form, both historically and contemporarily, whether it’s the fact that not many operas produced are by Black composers—I mean, we ourselves already said that the Met’s first Black composer to have an opera in the season only happened in 2021, which is about two and a half years ago at this point—or if there are actors who are in blackface who are performing roles like Aida, like Otello, that should be just cast with Black people, but to get these kind of big name performers who are often white or non-white, they are taking on those roles and just putting them in black- or brownface.

That’s how I had encountered this form just being in the theatre world and the musical world and being adjacent to the world of opera. There’s often also this kind of ways that the form of music, the form of music that is in opera, which is this more classical style, again, I’m not a musicologist, so I don’t know the exact kind of form or this exact term to describe this, but classical style that can be, in many ways, really divorced from Black people. It didn’t seem necessarily as if this was a space that was welcoming to Black folks.

Being a musical theatre scholar and having adjacent research to opera, someone that constantly comes up, and especially as someone who studies Black women in music theatre, someone that constantly comes up in my work and in my research is that of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield; and Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, being this Black woman who was one of the, I mean, think Beyonce, but in the nineteenth century. She was a very, very famous Black woman.

The reason why she was so famous is that people just could not believe that this Black woman was such a talented opera singer, that she was so classically trained and that she was performing this music that folks just couldn’t understand.

A lot of sound scholars write about the relationship between race and sound. If you look at someone’s work by someone like Nina Eidsheim, for example, who discusses how this idea of what a Black voice should sound like comes from this perception of Blackness, someone like Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield is an incredible study of that.

I believe Jennifer Lynn Stoever writes about Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield in her book The Sonic Color Line, where she talks about how white audiences received Taylor Greenfield or didn’t receive her, even going further into history, someone like Marian Anderson.

Marian Anderson, continuing into the mid-twentieth century, Marian Anderson making history as the first Black woman to perform at Carnegie Hall as this opera singer. Again, this idea that these spaces are not constructed to welcome in Black people, but this incredible, operatic, classically trained voice is one that we know very well.

Then, also my experience in thinking about opera and the relationships to Black musical genres too, is something like the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the ways that they were transposing their scores, which were made up of Negro spirituals, for example, and transferring them into this classical, operatic sound is what made the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other jubilee singers that came out of other places outside of Fisk University, really popular and paid for many ventures that the university had because of their popularity, both nationally and internationally.

Then, you have someone like Zora Neale Hurston, who’s very critical of the fact that Negro spirituals being transposed into this classical, operatic sound is not staying true to where Black music comes from. There’s this really interesting relationship between the classical genre that is often used as a way to gatekeep Black people from entering into these spaces, but then at the same time, there is, as is pointed out in Naomi Andre’s book, that there is this long history of Black people being here. That was kind of also running through my mind as I was watching X.

Leticia: Right, definitely. To your point and to Andre’s point, is that the story of Black people in opera is often one that is told and begins with the history of singers and Black people’s access to singing within the form of the opera. There is limited, but ongoing scholarship to really highlight and recover and nurture the work of Black opera composers and creators and directors, and thinking about how Black folks are in a lot of different roles in the operatic genre, and to really sort of think about Black folks engagement with opera beyond singing.

That’s not to discount the history that you accounted for because I think it’s critically important, and Andre even notes that Black singers did not enter the form of opera from the outside looking in as a form of skill, but as oddities. People went to go see them or allowed them in because they were like, “These Black people singing this classical music form? Interesting.”

What they actually end up doing is unearthing and usurping some of the expectations of what Black people could sound like, and then within themselves, ingratiating themselves in this genre where they were not welcomed and/or thought to have anything to say or do with. I think that’s critically important, that history you laid out for us.

Also, to say that I am so excited to have the opportunity to talk and chat with you and to have seen X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, because I think it really does focus on Black opera composers, writers, librettists that I was unfamiliar with, and I think that we can focus more on, and just to use the opportunity to note that while we will be focusing specifically on this particular opera, there are a list of other Black composers and creators of opera that are working and have worked for a long time. Andre gives us a list of these folks that we are also going to mention some at the end of the episode.

Then, lastly, what I’ll say is what Andre identified for me as someone who is newly entering Black opera is that there’s actually quite a few operas that are documenting key stories from African American history and people, which I thought was very, very interesting because my inclination when hearing about X and that their opera and Malcolm X was interesting, but it seems to be a critical point to tell these sort of epic stories about Black historical figures that I was just totally unaware of.

In her list, you have folks talking about Paul Laurence Dunbar as an opera, or Harriet Tubman. I think, I was really interested in what seems like to me, a correlation with the opera being a place where you can tell these epic stories about Black people.

Jordan: Yeah, exactly. I think that the sweeping and expansive nature of the form is… it gives way to telling these epic tales, epic histories and something big and grand, and because the way that the opera is structured, at least just from my very limited experience, my sample size is two, some of the librettist and composers I work with as a musical theatre dramaturg are transferring into the opera genre.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of them about the particular ways that the libretto works in opera. If you notice this, Leticia, when we were watching this, but there’s a kind of truncated way that the libretto enters into the space. Usually in opera is that, the focus is on the score. The music is the centerpiece. I wouldn’t say that isn’t necessarily untrue in musical theatre, but there is a way that it’s even more emphasized in opera.

I thought it was really interesting that X, in my opinion, actually used a lot more libretto than I expected. Even when I saw the other opera I mentioned earlier, Blue, is that it seemed like Thulani’s words as the librettist, got a little bit more focused in this opera than normally a libretto might get in this particular genre. I thought that was a really fascinating way of bucking against that genre.

I think we now can transition to just talking about the production.

Leticia: Yeah, I think that’s a great transition point. I would also like to say, to add a bit more context, is when we started thinking about this, we’re like, “How did the creation come to be? How does someone think about putting Malcolm X to an opera?”

According to Christopher and Anthony and Thulani, who are all cousins, Christopher was in a college course about African American autobiography, and he was reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. If you see this production ever, or you read the opera, or you listen to the music, a lot of what’s being pulled within the story is based off of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. That’s the sort of direct reference texts.

He called Anthony. To your point about music, when he was reading it, he was like, “Man, there’s so many music references in this specific autobiography,” and for me, it seems like it would be a happy medium to sort of think about this. At that time, he was thinking about it as a musical theatre piece, and it was really Anthony Davis who came in and was like, “Well, what about an opera?” Thulani was like, “Yes, I think this story needs to be told in an opera because of what the form itself allows.”

I think there’s a really interesting way that we see it show up within the opera form because while I had my own personal experience of adjusting to the sort of different sonic pace and sound of opera itself, because I wasn’t familiar with it, there was still a level of comfort I felt because it was playing with all these different musical genres as well that I was familiar with, that I’m not sure finds its way into the form of opera a lot, specifically, the way the sort of public imagination of what opera is. I think what you’re noting and what you’re pushing us to think about this boundary pushing that even within X as it sits with an opera is doing, is quite interesting to me.

I think that, or I would argue my limited argument, AKA my limited research in this area, is I wonder if it is this idea of when Blackness inserts the frame or Black people enter these genres, that because they have been excluded oftentimes from these spaces, they’re not only thinking in relationship to the form as it stands, but thinking about how can this form suits the needs of my project and how can I also pull in other forms to create different forms? This just continues our conversation that we’ve often have, Jordan, around form and genre even, you mentioned, with musical theatre.

Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. I find it really interesting because, let me tell you all, one of the standouts of this production was the choreography. Oh, my goodness. The dancing in this production was absolutely fantastic. Rickey Tripp, I believe, did the choreography for this production, and it was absolutely incredible. Again, we are not dance scholars by any means, but the use of dance as a storytelling method.

The kind of premise of the show is there’s a big spaceship that is on stage throughout the production. There is this ensemble of folks who are both singing and dancing, who are telling the story, helping to tell the story of Malcolm X. Some of them are future-oriented, and then some of them are also throughout his life and from the historical past.

The dancers were really, primarily utilized as this kind of futuristic mechanism. I found it really fascinating how dance was utilized. I’m curious to delve in deeper in many ways with the form of dance and how it shows up in the operatic genre. I wonder if that’s a typical thing that happens. Is dance and choreography utilized in this way?

I know it’s a part of musical theatre as the sort of storytelling dramaturgical function, but I was curious about how that entered into the frame within an opera. Even Anthony Davis, as the composer of this opera, did say that he was really involved in creating music for dance and quote, he says, “That set the stage for my opera work because with opera, you’re also creating music for bodies in space, bodies in motion. Movement and drama are part of the music.”

Working with this kind of embodied knowledge or making use of the embodiment of these different performers on stage was it informs the way he does musical process. It’s informing the way that he makes this music. You could really tell that in those scenes, for example, if you’re familiar with the story of Malcolm X, the story of Malcolm X, it’s his life, Malcolm X’s life, once he moved into this more urban environment versus the rural environment that he grew up in, the way that dances of the time period were coming in.

You had bebop, and you had folks doing these swing dances, just the way that that music and dance were intertwined in the same way that they usually are in African American community. I was really, really interested in that part. Anthony Davis’s background as a jazz musician really, I think, comes through in the score when you look at not just the jazz music, but just the kind of ways that it’s an unexpected thing, in the way that jazz makes use of improvisation is a part of what makes jazz, jazz. I think that that unexpected what’s going to happen next idea really comes through in the way that the music played in this production.

This is not this kind of straightforward, biopic type of telling of Malcolm X’s journey, though it certainly is… follows a kind of chronology in some ways, but more so that history is always occurring. What we do in the past is also in the future, is also in the present, is also in the future, you know what I mean?

Leticia: Absolutely. I 100 percent agree with you. I also was very struck by the use of dance, and it was one of the most compelling parts of the opera for me. I just kept thinking about the bodies moving in space and what appeared to me as people that were inside and outside of the opera.

I say this because they were dressed in sort of cream-colored, neutral clothing, so they were not identifiably connected with the characters of X, like Malcolm X himself, his sister, his mother, Street, Elijah Muhammad, and simultaneously not connected to the extraterrestrial Black folks that were on stage, kind of sort of witnessing the opera and this story. I was really interested in their fluidity of how they were able to move around the space.

I think this goes to O’Hara’s direction as someone who was… this is his first opera that he directed, but he has directed a lot of different genres and forms. He’s done straight plays. He’s done musical theatre. I think we see George C. Wolfe’s influence all over this, this sort of experimental nature in which O’Hara’s direction, I think, has always leaned into trying things differently, AKA. he’s the one who’s like, “Let’s put a spaceship on the stage.” Let’s really connect this notion of Afrofuturism to the story of Malcolm X.

We see that with the beginning, opening number and opening image where the spaceships crash lands at the Met. We hear this song about Marcus Garvey and Back to Africa Movement, and we see all these beautiful, beautiful, gorgeous, regal Black people of the future, Black people of the future that have came from this spaceship as they are singing and the costumes by, I believe it’s Dede Ayite, sorry if I mispronounce your name, but was absolutely fascinating.

If I was to imagine Black people of the future that are extraterrestrials, that is it. I just thought it was so interesting how this theme of Afrofuturism blended within a story that we may not associate with it, and also the way that it was connected with the past. How do you utilize Afrofuturism to tell a story of the past? I think that’s such a compelling question and issue that O’Hara takes up in this particular opera.

Jordan: Thinking about Malcolm X as this kind of everyman figure, Robert O’Hara talked about, for example, choosing the actor who played Malcolm X and saying, “There’s no reason for you to be playing Malcolm X, except there’s every reason for you to be playing Malcolm X because he lives in all of us.” I think, not in this simultaneous, symmetrical experience, but more so the way that Black people perceive time, and it’s also a way that Indigenous folks perceive time is that it’s cyclical. It doesn’t move forward. It moves in a circle. It goes around.

I thought that the choice to have all of the characters, and all of the extraterrestrials, and also the folks from the past all on stage together, blended together… There were points when I was looking and trying to separate them, and I was like, “There is no separation.” Everything’s always happening simultaneously. It’s always happening in a circle.

I was really fascinated with Robert O’Hara’s interpretation of that and how that contributes that this is not this kind of straightforward, biopic type of telling of Malcolm X’s journey, though it certainly is… follows a kind of chronology in some ways, but more so that history is always occurring. What we do in the past is also in the future, is also in the present, is also in the future, you know what I mean?

It’s just this spiraling rather than this kind of linear narrative. I really, really love that because, again, my limited experience of opera in the forefront, but so much of the storytelling function of opera is this kind of linear narrative, what happens and from scene to scene, and there’s often subtitles, all these different things. What does it mean to have X come in and redo in the same way?

I think that someone like Malcolm X, someone who greatly impacted the way we understand Blackness, the way we understand ourselves as Black people needs a musical or an opera or something that does the same thing. I know this is directly related to the actual book, Malcolm X’s autobiography, but also I couldn’t help but think about Spike Lee’s telling of Malcolm X, which I love. I love that movie. I know it’s three—

Leticia: That’s why Angela was there.

Jordan: Exactly. I know it’s three billion hours long, but it is definitely, to me, it’s Denzel Washington’s magnum opus, which is saying something because Denzel Washington is great in everything he does, and having that movie in my cultural imaginary, also, I think that was also something that Robert O’Hara was also contending with because there are going to be people who have only seen that movie.

I think with public figures, you have to contend with, yes, them as people, and you want to get their lives right, but they also existed in this public space. Many people have different relationships to Malcolm X and his work. How do we tell a story that is both surprising but also familiar?

Leticia: Which something that you said that really resonated with me was the idea of the past and the present and the future all intertwined is that we see that within the direction itself, like you mentioned, right? There’s the moment where the spaceship is used as a projection site, and we see the names of all the Black folks skilled at the hands of violence scrolled across very early, actually, within the opera. I thought that was a really interesting choice.

I will say, I buy the Afrofuturist inclusion within the opera and in the direction of it. I do think there was moments later on, as the show sort of progresses where it sort of loses its connection with the piece because we see less interaction with the two things, but that does not mean that, by any means, I don’t think that it should be taken out. I just think it’s actually quite interesting within the frame that O’Hara’s offering us as we sort of thinking about this cyclical nature that you led to us.

One of the things that O’Hara really said during one of the interviews during intermission that really struck me was this notion of cost, right? He said, “Malcolm X, it cost him so much to be this political leader to decide to go against the nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad,” to sort of move in his sort of political stances in so many ways that this opera itself should cost the audience something.

When you think about the audience for opera, the first thing come to mind, like most theatre, is rich, old, white people. The way that this is written is confrontational in nature. The music, the lyrics is, I mean, this white man has to go. Some of the lyrics, I was like, “Oh, Christopher and Thulani and Anthony, they are not playing.”

The story has much punch as Malcolm X had in his lifetime. I really appreciate it, that intention behind the opera and not saying we’re trying to pull punches or we’re trying to soften Malcolm X, and who he was and what he said. I really appreciated that that spirit was captured within the opera itself and that they, even though this premiered in ‘86, and I believe it was the second production of this particular opera, that they were open to new interpretation and ways to update it for a time that we currently live in.

You’re confronting the majority space, but you’re also intervening in that space by the dramaturgical interventions, the sonic interventions, the choreographic interventions.

Jordan: I agree with you. I think that there can be a tendency when particularly politically controversial figures enter into these kind of more mainstream spaces… Well, I wouldn’t say opera is mainstream, but enter into kind of “highbrow spaces,” spaces that are not necessarily seen as radical places. There is a tendency sometimes for these figures, for the political resonance of what they did and who they are to be defamed. It becomes more apolitical, or it becomes more universal, whatever that means. We know what that means. That usually means how does it appeal to white, liberal, borderline conservative sensibilities.

What I thought, but to your point, Leticia, they didn’t do that. I felt like Malcolm X’s radical stances were maintained throughout the piece. I don’t feel that he was kind of dialed back or watered down in any way. It didn’t feel like they were trying to appeal to the opera audience, is what I’m trying to say. Like you said, it’s confrontational.

One of, we’ve mentioned Isaiah Wooden on this podcast many times, but in his article that he wrote about the Black gaze in theatre, he talks about how learning from Black artists taught him that the point of Black art is to confront and intervene. I felt, in many ways, that that was happening in this piece, that there was a confrontation of this white gaze that was, because you cannot ignore that that this is who this space comprises of.

You’re confronting the majority space, but you’re also intervening in that space by the dramaturgical interventions, the sonic interventions, the choreographic interventions. I really appreciated the ways that they were utilizing the many tactics of embodied action in order to reach those dramaturgical goals.

I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed this opera. Even though I think it was like three hours long, I want to say, with two intermissions, it did not feel like that. It did not. I wasn’t sitting there being like, “Oh my God, when is this going to be over?” I really, really was invested, and it felt accessible to me, someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience with opera. Because that was one of my main concerns—I was like, “Am I going to feel confused? Am I just going to be totally fish out of water here?” I didn’t feel like that at all.

If this ever comes to any opera near you, or for some reason they put it back in theatres for us to watch, which you should, Met, or they release it on streaming, I highly recommend that you watch this even if you are not familiar with opera. It will completely be an experience that is accessible to anyone, I think.

Leticia: I, 1000 percent agree with you, and likewise, I cannot recommend this opera enough. I was really, really pulled by what I’ve seen and excited to really seek out more opportunities to see Black opera. I want to see more operas.

Jordan: Are we in our opera era?

Leticia: I think we might be in our opera era, and really thinking about its relationship to Black theatre, I think, is such an interesting and fruitful place for more exploration. Again, highly recommend, highly recommend.

Of course, as we always conclude our episodes with, we are going to give you a wonderful, wonderful reading list of operas that you may want to look out for. Then, also books and articles. What operas do we have for them, Jordan?

Jordan: Let’s talk a little bit about Anthony Davis. Anthony Davis has other operas. We would love for you all to consume them in any way. We specifically like to recommend Amistad by Anthony Davis. Then, Adolphus Hailstork’s opera Paul Laurence Dunbar: Common Ground. Then, finally, Nkeiru Okoye— please charge it to my head and not my heart if I am pronouncing that incorrectly—and her opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom.

Leticia: Yes, as we should, as we should.

Jordan: Absolutely. Yes. We’ve also mentioned, we didn’t get into chance to talk about her in this episode, but Shirley Graham Du Bois, totally is an opera… She wrote the first opera as a Black woman, or probably not wrote the first one, but first ones to produced, I believe, in the United States. We’ve mentioned her before, but I just wanted to bring her name back into this episode: Shirley Graham Du Bois.

Leticia: For books and articles, we have an anthology, Blackness in Opera, that was edited by Naomi Andre, Karen M. Bryan, and Eric Saylor. This was published in 2012, which then led to Naomi Andre writing her book Black Opera History: Power and Engagement. Please, please, please check those out. Then, we have two articles from friends of the podcast that we would like to recommend: Kristin Moriah’s “On The Record: Sissieretta Jones and Black Feminist Recording Praxes.” Then, Caitlin Marshall’s “Ear Training for History: Listening to Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield’s Double-Voiced Aesthetics.” Make sure you check out those books and articles as well as the operas.

Jordan: Go see opera. Support Black people in opera.

Leticia: This has been another episode of Daughters of Lorraine. We’re your hosts, Leticia Ridley—

Jordan: And Jordan Ealey. On our next episode, we interviewed Jonathan McCrory, executive artistic director at the National Black Theatre. We have so much in store for you all that you definitely will not want to miss. In the meantime, if you’re looking to connect with us, please follow us on Twitter at @dolorrainepod, P-O-D. You can also email us at [email protected] for further contact.

Leticia: Our theme music is composed by Inza Bamba. The Daughters of Lorraine podcast is supported by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. It’s available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and If you’re looking for the podcasts on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify, you’ll want to search and subscribe to Daughters of Lorraine podcast.

Jordan: If you loved this podcast, post a rating or write review on those platforms. This helps other people find us. You can also find this transcript for this episode, along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content, on Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay, or TV event that theatre community needs to hear? Visit and submit your ideas to the Commons.

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