Denyce Graves, Toni Morrison, and Richard Danielpour
Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
(April 19, 2005) - Internationally acclaimed Yaddo composer Richard Danielpour and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison have joined forces to create what could be one of the most powerful and memorable artistic creations of the season, the opera Margaret Garner.
The much anticipated first opera for both Mr. Danielpour and Ms. Morrison took nearly three years to complete and was commissioned by three companies – Michigan Opera Theater, Cincinnati Opera, and Opera Company of Philadelphia. It will receive its world premiere May 7 at the Detroit Opera House in a $2 million Michigan Opera Theater production.
Soprano Denyce Graves will perform the title role in all three cities, playing a woman whose pre-Civil War trial in America sparked intense national debate. Margaret Garner’s case was among the most significant and controversial of all fugitive slave stories. Fleeing Kentucky’s Maplewood Plantation (still in existence today and open to the public) in 1856 for freedom in Ohio, Margaret Garner sacrificed her own children rather than see them returned to the bonds of slavery. Her trial pitted a charge of murder in Ohio, a “free” state, against a destruction of property suit in Kentucky; both sides illustrating the simmering roots of impending civil war.
Kenny Leon, who recently directed the Broadway revival of Raisin in the Sun, is the director for Margaret Garner. It is his first time directing an opera. In addition to Ms. Graves, cast members include Gregg Baker, Angela M. Brown, Rod Gilfry, Roger Honeywell, and John MacMaster, among others. The creative team also includes Conductor Stefan Lano, Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, Scenic Designer, and Paul Tazwell, Costume Designer.
Mr. Danielpour, 49, has written for the major orchestras of New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Pittsburg, as well as for Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Thomas Hampson, Jessye Norman, Dawn Upshaw, Frederica von Stade, Gary Graffman, and the Guarneri Quartet. After Stravinsky and Copland, he was the third composer ever signed to an exclusive contract to Columbia/CBS/Sony. He has been a guest artist at Yaddo several times, most recently in 2004, when he used his time to work on the second act of Margaret Garner.
Although he didn’t start to write Margaret Garner until recent years, the gem of the idea dates back to the 1980s when Mr. Danielpour came across a volume of poetry about runaway slaves. The story of Margaret Garner, who drowned her children and tried to kill herself in an effort to save them all from a return to slavery, touched him and he began to think of her story as a subject for an opera. He was amazed to find that Ms. Morrison, with whom he had formed a creative partnership in the mid-1990s, shared the same inspiration, which found its form in her acclaimed book Beloved.
Virtually as soon as Margaret Garner tickets were available, opera fans snapped them up, and several performances are nearly sold-out. The opera moves on to Cincinnati in July and to Philadelphia in February, 2006. For additional information about the opera, go to www.margaretgarner.com.