Opera in the Rock The 2022-23 season focuses on black composers and composers

Opera in the Rock, Little Rock’s restructured professional opera company, will be “the only opera company in the United States that dedicates its entire season to building the Black experience,” said Fred Owens, the company’s president and CEO, during Wednesday’s announcement of the 2022-23 season.

The season will feature one full-fledged opera; one musical version of a complete opera; “Masked Party” with world-famous mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves as the main title; a concert by soprano Takesha Mich Kezart Thomas in honor of black opera stars and jazz stars; and a fundraiser called “Divas in the Rock” in honor of late singer Whitney Houston.

Everything this season will include either a black composer, black crew, black featured work, or all of the above.

Owens and new artistic director Ella Marchment revealed the schedule in the hall on Little Rock West Ninth Street, which was the center of the Little Rock Black business district in the first half of the 20th century. All performances will be held there.

The company has rebuilt itself after the departure of its chief technical officer, Kate Sen, in October, as well as the February cancellation of the remainder of the 2021-22 season by her replacement, who indicated a “change in technical vision”.

“Fred and I decided to dedicate a season to black artists because technically all members of our senior management team are ‘racial’ outsiders,” Marchment explains in the company’s season brochure. “I myself am of mixed race Asian and South American and my family is more willing to listen to reggae than opera.”

Marchment directed the opera company’s production of the one-act opera “Scalia/Ginsburg” in August 2021 and was scheduled to direct the canceled production of Gaetano Donizetti’s opera “Anna Bolena” in May.

Opera at the Rock schedule 2022-23:

• September 9: “The Masked Party”. red carpet and cocktail party at 6 p.m.; Dinner (“Great culinary experience, curated by a local chef”) and Awards Ceremony, 7 p.m.; Dennis Graves performing at 8 p.m.; After the party, 9:30 p.m.

Greaves, primarily known for his singing roles as “Carmen” and “Samson and Delilah,” has performed in major operas and concert halls around the world, including, in March 2006, a concert at Central Arkansas University in Conway.

November 19-20: “Porgy and Bess” (music by George Gershwin, libretto by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward), in a musical version by Andrew Lytton, featuring the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

• February 11-12: “The Divas in the Rock: A Tribute to Whitney Houston.”

• March 4th: Soprano Takesha Mashi Kezart Thomas performs opera, art song, jazz “and more” to honor “the dramatic heroines of the opera stage that she portrayed… Shirley Ferry, Leontine Price and Jesse Norman. The jazz standards for which the “first lady of song” is known Ella Fitzgerald; artistic songs by contemporary black composers; and new pieces commissioned and made by Kizart-Thomas,” according to the booklet.

• June 3-4, 2023: “Highway 1” by William Grant Steele of Arkansas, a fully staged opera, is set in the home of a married couple who run a filling station on US 1, which stretches from Key West, Florida, to Maine.

Wednesday’s event also featured a “Let’s Talk Opera” panel discussion featuring Marcia Sales, chief diversity officer at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and Victoria Ramirez, executive director of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts. With Owens curated, the discussion covered ways to build sustainable, community-centered art organizations; Women and Leadership in the Arts; and the importance of diversity, inclusion and equality in the arts.

Sales stressed the importance of “making sure that organizations and the people who run them think about the communities in which they are; and that conversations are not just surveys, but real and actual conversations” with people in the community.

Focusing on the community, Ramirez said, means “caring about the community and the people who pass through your doors” as much as what is being offered.

The Wednesday show featured soprano Michaela Lynn Hatfield, originally from Van Buren, who Owens hinted would appear later in the season. Hatfield enriched my soul (“Guide my feet”); Artistic song (“Out of the South Blow a Wind” by FC Woods) and “Summertime” from the movie “Porgy and Bess”. Nikki Parrish, who will be Music Director of “Divas in the Rock,” sang Dolly Parton’s smash hit for Houston: “I Will Always Love You.”

More information about Oprah in rock season is available at oitr.org.

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