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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Beauford Delaney Opera a Tremendous Success!

The world premiere of ShadowLight, the opera that depicts Beauford's life in a series of flashbacks, was a tremendous success!

I posted preliminary information about the opera in last week's blog. At the time, I was not aware that on February 28, OperaWire (an online publication whose mission is "to shine a spotlight on all the amazing people nurturing and developing the art form [of opera] today") listed ShadowLight as one of the top six operas to be seen in North America that weekend:

OperaWire article by David Salazar - February 28, 2020

Opening night was sold out long before February 28.

Opening night audience
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

Sylvia Peters, director of The Delaney Project, was the first person to send me news of the results of opening night. She said the performance was "spectacular" and that "it must be presented in Paris."

Joy Stone, a parent of one of the children from the Classes Duo Paris / Knoxville program that is rooted in Beauford's life and work, sent me the link to the review by Arts Knoxville - "the source for news and commentary on the art and music scene in Knoxville":

Marble City Opera's 'ShadowLight' - A Stunning Celebration of the Art and Life of Beauford Delaney

I then began receiving comments from others who attended the performance.

Heather Klessig-Zeiger, another Classes Duo parent, had the following to say:

"The combination of art projected on the wall, the orchestra music, the facial expressions and the words spoken were very powerful.

Beauford and his inner voices
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

"I paid attention to the angst, confusion, fear in the speaker’s face. It was tear jerking when the three voices were speaking all at once which resulted in Beauford crying. The struggle to stay focused on his art to quiet the voices but wanting to hear his mother’s voice. Calling out to his mom and wanting her when he was in Paris, watching him in the insane asylum and fighting against people who had to restrain him was hard to swallow.

An anguished Beauford
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

"Because of ... the 25 years I’ve worked with children and adults with mental illness, it was powerful and insightful. I have seen first hand the way a person acts and responds to this trauma and not wanting to live to get rid of the pain. All of this was so beautifully conveyed with the music, his art and James Baldwin’s words.

"ShadowLight is not the presence of darkness in light but the presence of a light (Beauford) in the darkness. I believe that was the meaning of it all."

L to R: Librettist Emily Anderson; cast members Brandon J. Gibson, Regan Bisch, Vincent Davis, and Breyon Ewing;
director Kathryn Frady; orchestra conductor Brian Holman, composer Larry Delinger, cast member Joshua Allen
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

Librettist Emily Anderson shared the following about her involvement in ShadowLight:

"I first learned about Beauford Delaney twenty-five years ago, when Knoxville Museum of Art curator Stephen Wicks started researching him. Sylvia Peters, director of The Delaney Project, invited me to write the libretto. I spent six months researching Delaney’s life, mostly in newspaper and magazine clippings and museum catalogues, plus the David Leeming biography. Except for the Leeming biography, there is not much about him in any archive."

I asked Anderson why she believes the opera was so well received. She replied that the audience seemed to understand who Beauford was, the obstacles he overcame, and the contributions he made to 20th-century art. The most important thing about the performance for her was that "Audience members took Beauford Delaney home with them."

Marble House Opera director Kathryn Frady first learned of Beauford when Anderson approached her about producing an opera about Beauford. She told me that one of her passions is to tell stories through opera that are relatable and accessible to a new audience. So the idea of producing an opera about an artist from Knoxville made logical and emotional sense to her.

Frady describes ShadowLight as "a story of someone that our audiences themselves would be excited about seeing, since he grew up where they live, and that had the potential to bring a new non-traditional opera audience to the performance."

Next week: I'll share information about how director Kathryn Frady selected the cast for ShadowLight.

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