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Morningside Opera Sets Cast of VOODOO, 6/26-27

Metropolitan Opera singer Janinah Burnett and Joanna Marie Ford and Steven Wallace will perform the leading roles in Morningside Opera, Harlem Opera Theater and The Harlem Chamber Players concert production of VOODOO, the long-lost and historical opera by African American composer Harry Lawrence Freeman. They will be joined by Crystal Charles, James R. Hopkins III, Barry L. Robinson, Darian Worrall, a full chorus and 30-piece orchestra. The production is directed by Melissa Crespo and conducted by Gregory Hopkins. Last performed in NYC in 1928, VOODOO, will play two concert performances only on June 26 and 27, 2015 at 7PM at Miller Theatre at Columbia University (2960 Broadway, at the corner of Broadway and 116th street) in Manhattan. Terrance McKnight of WQXR Radio is the evening's host. Tickets are $25 advance/$30 at the door, with discount tickets available for students and seniors at $20. They can be purchased by visiting or by calling 800-838-3006.

Set on a Louisiana plantation just after the Civil War, VOODOO centers on a classic love triangle between three former slaves, one of whom turns to voodoo to entice her sweetheart and do away with her rival. This historical opera blends Western classical music with extended passages of period dance music, including a "Cake-Walk," and incorporates settings of several African American spirituals, such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Composer Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954) was well known in the Harlem community during his lifetime, and gained some acceptance in mainstream classical music circles in the 1920s-1940s. A contemporary of Scott Joplin, his operas were performed at the historic Lafayette Theater and at Carnegie Hall. Freeman considered himself a student of Richard Wagner (to whom he was compared by contemporary journalists), but he also incorporated American folk music and jazz into his compositions. Freeman received the Harmon Award for significant achievement by an African American in the field of arts and letters in 1930, for VOODOO (sharing the award with Adam Clayton Powell). In 1934 he was the composer and musical director of the pageant "O Sing a New Song," a prestigious performance at the Chicago World's Fair that celebrated the African American experience. The pinnacle of his career was the 1947 production of his opera The Martyr at Carnegie Hall.

Despite these achievements, most of Freeman's operas remain unpublished and there are no professional recordings of his music. As an African American composer, Freeman was denied access to many mainstream venues. Therefore, this performance is designed primarily to stimulate interest in Freeman, to raise awareness about and access to his music, and to foster new audiences for opera. His papers and scores reside in Columbia University's Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.

"We are very excited to be recording this concert live and to make this recording available through Columbia Libraries," said Annie Holt, co-founder of Morningside Opera. "We are also transcribing the score into digital music software, which will increase access to Freeman's music, encouraging future productions much sooner."

"Besides sharing Freeman's music with the public, we hope to spark a dialogue about some of the issues this project raises," said Gregory Hopkins, Artistic Director of Harlem Opera Theater. "Issues such as defining American opera, what kinds of communities can enjoy and produce opera, the role of opera in the Harlem Renaissance, and how might popular music - especially American forms like jazz and spirituals - influence opera," he continued.

Columbia University will also sponsor a conference called "RESTAGING THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE: New Views on the Performing Arts in Black Manhattan" on June 26 and 27, 2015, in conjunction with the performances. This two-day interdisciplinary symposium on African American performing arts will include an array of events related to the VOODOO revival, including a keynote address on the significance of Freeman's work, a round-table discussion with performers, and an exhibit of Freeman's papers in Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The symposium is co-sponsored by Columbia University's Department of Music, PhD Program in Theatre, Center for Study of Race and Ethnicity, the Heyman Center for the Humanities, the Institute for Research in African American Studies and the IRAAS Alumni Council, and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. For more information please visit:

Morningside Opera is an artists' collective dedicated to challenging the boundaries of the genre, through accessible performances of works old, new, and somewhere in between. In addition to presenting fully staged productions, Morningside Opera works to bridge gaps between academic theory and theater practice, organizing conferences and public educational programs that feature leading scholars and practitioners in discussion about the future of opera. In 2012, The New York Times said "Morningside Opera's bold imagination and musical diligence... marks this company as one to watch."

Harlem Opera Theater's mission is to provide performance opportunities for professional and developing gifted artists within Harlem and communities where opera is seldom performed; and to cultivate and expand audience appreciation for opera and classical music through creative programming. Under the artistic direction of Gregory Hopkins, particular focus is given to the works of African American composers and to projects that link different aspects of the performing arts.

The Harlem Chamber Players is an ethnically diverse collective of professional musicians dedicated to bringing high-caliber, affordable and accessible live classical music to the Harlem community and beyond. In addition, The Harlem Chamber Players seek to build an audience for classical music in general through community and educational outreach, as well as through collaborations with Harlem's other arts organizations, schools and cultural institutions. The Harlem Chamber Players also create opportunities for classically trained minority musicians.

This project is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council; in part by Council Member Inez E. Dickens, 9th Council District, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the New York City Council; in part by a grant from Columbia Community Service; a grant from the West Harlem Development Corporation of Tides Corporation; and through the generous donations of our individual supporters. This project is also made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and The New York Community Trust/Charles E. Culpeper Fund. Additionally, this project is made possible in part by public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

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