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BMOP and Odyssey Opera Announce New, Five-Year Series of Performances/Recordings of Operas By Black Composers


As Told By: History, Race, and Justice on the Opera Stage will feature neglected repertoire, current masterpieces, and new operas by Black American composers.

BMOP and Odyssey Opera Announce New, Five-Year Series of Performances/Recordings of Operas By Black Composers

Yesterday, at a press conference hosted at Roxbury Community College, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and Odyssey Opera, two of today's leading innovators on the classical musical scene, unveiled a new five-year initiative to elevate opera by Black composers. As Told By: History, Race, and Justice on the Opera Stage will feature neglected repertoire, current masterpieces, and new operas by Black American composers that depict vital figures of Black liberation and Black thought across 250 years of history. Supported in part by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, As Told By includes New England and world premiere performances of five operas, along with commercial recordings. The initiative is one of the most extensive and ambitious presentations of opera by Black composers to take place in Boston and in American opera.

According to Gil Rose, Founder and Artistic Director of both BMOP and Odyssey Opera, As Told By represents a new dimension of BMOP's mission to celebrate new and underperformed music of the 20th and 21st centuries: "We hope that elevating the voices of Black composers will build momentum for a long-overdue shift to a more inclusive and representative classical music canon."

The initiative celebrates the significant contributions made by Black artists and composers to American operatic repertoire, and aims for a lasting impact through its combination of performances and recordings. As Anthony Davis, one of the composers featured in the series, noted: "Black composers writing opera is nothing new, there's a history there, and I'm honored to be part of that history." Similarly, composer Jonathan Bailey Holland, whose opera The Bridge will receive its world premiere in 2026 as the fifth opera in the series, commented, "Especially after hearing about the history of the other works that are a part of this collection, and the sparse performance history that there's been, it feels even more of an honor to be a part."

As Told By is designed not just to elevate the voices of Black composers but to celebrate contemporary Black creativity in Boston and nationally. Says Rose: "This project constitutes the best possible platform on which to forge relationships with Black-led organizations, Black artists, and communities. Just as we hope to build a more inclusive canon through As Told By, this initiative marks the start of a commitment to build a more inclusive organization-one whose audiences, partners, and supporters see themselves and their interests reflected in our programming and our work."

BMOP has been applauded for a 25-year commitment to resurrecting forgotten works and casting a spotlight on rarely performed composers. "Much of the most interesting work is being done by groups led by the conductor Gil Rose, whose Boston Modern Orchestra Project continues to shine in overlooked music." (Gramophone). According to The Wall Street Journal, "BMOP has long been neutral ground in contemporary music's style wars, offering itself as a safe haven for, and champion of, virtually every ism, and every genre- and era- mixing hybrid that composers' imaginations have wrought."

Odyssey Opera, who will partner with BMOP in the production of each performance, has been praised by the New York Times as "one of the nation's most intriguing opera companies." Anchored by a commitment to eclectic, adventurous programming that champions new or forgotten works beyond the familiar, Odyssey Opera has been hailed for "consistently top-drawer performances of rarely mounted yet worthy operatic repertoire" (American Record Guide).

Performances + Recordings
Rose notes, "These five exceptional works span eight decades, and were selected to showcase a wide variety of dramatic and musical styles. They offer an exciting cross-section of the dynamic landscape of modern and contemporary opera." From 2022 to 2026, BMOP will present concert, semi-staged, or staged performances, with production partner Odyssey Opera collaborating on semi- and fully-staged productions.

The series begins with a performance of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis's (b.1951) seminal opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (1986) on June 17, 2022, at Boston's Strand Theatre, a short distance from the house where Malcolm X lived in his teenage years in Roxbury. Bass-baritone Davóne Tines, Musical America's 2021 Vocalist of the Year, appears in the titular role. Sadly, Davis' masterwork, though originally recorded, is no longer available on a commercial label. Davis is now working on a revision of this seminal American opera, and his updated thoughts on this opera will be reflected on BMOP/sound's release.

BMOP's performance of Guggenheim Fellow Nkeiru Okoye's (b.1972) Harriet Tubman (libretto by Okoye; first performance 2014) will mark the premiere of the full orchestra version of the composer's first opera. William Grant Still's (1895-1978) Troubled Island (libretto by Langston Hughes; first performance 1949), the first opera by a Black composer to be performed at a major American opera company, is a depiction of Jean Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806) and his leadership in the Haitian revolution. BMOP will partner with New York City Opera, the company that produced the work's premiere, for a 75th anniversary performance in 2024.

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