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Thursday, June 5, 2014

UCA commissioning opera about 1957 school crisis, with help from Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 7:23 AM

WORDS AND MUSIC: UCA is working on an opera about the Central High crisis.
  • WORDS AND MUSIC: UCA is working on an opera about the Central High crisis.

I'm a day late in mentioning this New York Times article on an artistic enterprise underway at the University of Central Arkansas — an opera built on the story of the 1957 desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central High.

The school is in the process of commissioning the composer Tania León and the scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. to create a work about the incident, and hopes to present the premiere in September 2017, around the 60th anniversary of the events.

Rollin Potter, the former dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications at the university, began the commissioning process and agreed to stay on to see it through. He said on Tuesday that he had selected Ms. León to compose the work after reviewing recordings by several composers with members of the music faculty. Ms. León brought Mr. Gates into the project as its librettist.

Gates told the Times:

“I watched the integration of Central High School on TV with my parents when I was 7 years old,” Mr. Gates said, “and those images have stuck with me. Horrific things for a child to see. I wrote about it in ‘Colored People,’ which is a memoir on my childhood, before I went off to Yale. So this is quite exciting to me.”

The work would premier at UCA, but the hope is that it would then be staged by major opera companies.

Disclosure: A variety of grants are helping to underwrite the project, including one from the Darragh Foundation, on whose board I sit.

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