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The Sunday Opera: For Black History Month, "Sanctuary Road" (Moravec) & "Treemonisha" (Joplin)

[Follow the Sanctuary Road libretto here]  We have a special Sunday Opera planned this week (2/23 3:00 p.m.) as we celebrate Black History month with music by and about some historically important black Americans.  We’ll begin with a contemporary oratorio by Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell entitled Sanctuary Road.  Based on the writing of William Still, a freed slave who helped over 800 slaves find their own freedom via the Underground Railroad through Philadelphia, Campbell crafted a moving portrait of just some of the stories collected by Still through interviews he conducted with each individual he saved.   We’re very pleased to be including an interview with Paul Moravec regarding the creation of Sanctuary Road as well as some of his other works including his operas based on Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter” and Stephen King’s “The Shining.”  

The world-premiere recording of Sanctuary Road features Laquita Mitchell, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Joshua Blue, Malcolm J. Merriweather, and Dashon Burton with the Chorus and Orchestra of the Oratorio Society of New York under the direction of Kent Tritle.  We’ll continue with a look at some of the African-American “originals” who changed the face of American music with Scott Joplin’s opera “Treemonisha.”  A truly American work, the libretto by Joplin focuses on the changes occurring in southern rural Black society at the turn of the twentieth century and the conflict between the prevailing superstitions and the desire for knowledge.  This recording features Anita Johnson as Treemonisha, AnnMarie Sandy and Frank Ward, Jr. as her parents, Chauncey Parker as her friend Remus, and Edward Pleasant as the troublemaking conjurer, Zodzetrick.  Rick Benjamin is the orchestrator and leads the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra and Chorus.  

Other pieces featured include a ballet based on a folk legend from Martinique entitled “La Guiablesse” by William Grant Still who was called the “Dean of African-American Composers,” “Yamekraw, a Negro Rhapsody” from 1927 by New Brunswick, NJ born James Price Johnson, and one of Duke Ellington’s forays into the world of classical music, a tone-poem of sorts based on his beloved “Harlem.”   

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.