UPDATE: The winner is…bn100!
Going down the rabbit hole is what we authors call picking up a thread of research that takes us away from our intended purpose. My latest is African-American opera. What got me started was my quest to track down a modern adaptation of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. I learned of an African-American version where James Brown’s first gold record is the gold stolen in the opera. Looking for information on that performance has taken me down many paths in my latest rabbit hole. Before my quest, I’d have had to admit my knowledge of opera depicting aspects of African-American life was limited to the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and Scott Joplin’s Tremonisha. I soon became lost in the wonderful facts I discovered about old and new works. And truth be told, I loved being lost.
My rabbit hole was really a gold mine. I struck a rich vein every time I began a new internet search. I’ve learned about modern works like Tulani and Anthony Davis’ X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X that premiered at the American Music Theater Festival in 1985. Last year, the Seattle Opera performed Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette A. Wimberly’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, a daring piece that incorporated jazz and opera.
This month I learned about 1949’s Troubled Island by composer William Grant Still. You can learn more about the piece here…
In 1936, Still began the opera set in Haiti’s slave rebellion. He asked poet Langston Hughes to write the libretto. Hughes had collaborated with African American composer James P. Johnson to write a blues opera called De Organizer. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union sponsored performances of the work in 1940. In 1937, Hughes moved to Spain to correspond on the Spanish Civil War. Still’s wife, Verna Arvey, a librettist in her own right, finished Troubled Island‘s libretto. Completed in 1939, it took ten more years before the work was performed by the New York City Opera. This made Troubled Island the first African-American grand opera to be produced by a major opera company.
I was drawn to learn more about William Grant Still, the music of Langston Hughes, Verna Arvey, James P. Johnson, famous sponsors of work by African-American artists. Can you see why research is an underground rabbit warren from which I might have never returned to the story that initiated the search in the first place? I plugged up my ears against the siren call of all these facts and made my way back to the surface. I’ve tucked the information away for another time and other stories.
I’ve yet to find the James-Brown-gold-record version of Das Rheingold but I haven’t given up. If you come across it or any information about it, please let me know. But beware lest you fall into a rabbit hole research trap of your own.
For a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card, share in the comments if you have a favorite opera or if opera is something you avoid at all costs.
One Breath Away
Sentenced to hang for a crime she didn’t commit, former slave Mary Hamilton was exonerated at literally the last gasp. She returns to Safe Haven, broken and resigned to live alone. She’s never been courted, cuddled or spooned, and now no man could want her, not when sexual satisfaction comes only with the thought of asphyxiation. But then the handsome stranger who saved her shows up, stealing her breath from across the room and promising so much more.
Wealthy, freeborn-Black, Eban Thurman followed Mary to Safe Haven, believing the mysteriously exotic woman is his mate foretold by the stars. He must marry her to reclaim his family farm. But first he must help her heal, and to do that means revealing his own predilection for edgier sex.
Hope ignites along with lust until the past threatens to keep them one breath away from love…
Excerpt from One Breath Away
He removed his hat and extended his hand in greeting. “At your service, Queen.”
She donned her hat and examined him with that regal air.
“Miss Payne, if you please. You may call me Queen after the nuptials.” She finished tying her hat’s long ribbons beneath her chin. “Although, even then, I’d prefer Mrs. King.”
“You don’t say?” He chuckled, taking her measure from head to foot. “Well, Miss Payne it is…for now.”
She filled her face with a frown. “I don’t appreciate being examined like some newly purchased cow, Mr. King.”
He pulled back. Amusement wrestled with annoyance. “I’m making sure you measure up, Miss Payne.”
“Pray to what criteria? I doubt there’s a standard for marriages of convenience.” She shoved her valise against his chest then crossed her arms, causing her lovely bosom to swell.
He inhaled against the pull of desire throbbing in his privates. “The same criteria as you I suspect: my own self-worth and what I deserve.” He dropped the bag at her feet. “So, by that token, I don’t appreciate being treated like some fetch-and-carry boy.”
She lowered her gaze. But for the set of her jaw he’d have taken the gesture for apology.
He leaned forward and whispered, “If you ask me nicely, I’d gladly carry your bag.”
“A gentleman wouldn’t need to be asked.” Her tone dripped with disdain. “A gentleman would simply take it.”
“I do many things, Miss Payne.” He pushed up the brim of his hat and grinned, fired up by the hazel flame sparking in her eyes. “Pretending to be a gentleman doesn’t number among them.”
Buy links: Amazon – https://amzn.to/2VT5u0F
Never been to the Opera and no real desire to go
Years ago, I worked as a comptroller in a large car dealership. Often, I worked on Saturdays because the office was empty and I could get a lot done. I’d turn on a program that played live operas at The Met and fell in love with Opera. Of course, I loved La Bohème and Carmen—the music is lush and romantic and so recognizable. I took my then 7-year-old to see a German opera in Atlanta. She was lost to the words although we talked about the story before we went so she could follow along. She loved the music and the costumes. I collected CDs of my favorite operas. I had my favorite singers, Pavarotti and Cecelia Bartoli, and followed them like a fangirl. It’s odd seeing my classical CDs beside my heavy metal, but I think they fit well together. 🙂
My favorite opera is Madame Butterfly. I could listen to the songs every day.
As always thanks for letting my share my passion on your blog, Delilah
Hi Dana, thanks for commenting. Before this rabbit hole there were particular operas by a composer by not all all of them. For example I love Wagner’s ring cycle operas but have no interest in his other works. It’s a taste I’m acquiring. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Delilah, my fourth year advanced french class was all Carmen. That was my introduction to opera. Black female opera stars like Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman were always on my radar. I’d listen to recordings or watch excerpted performances. Live at the Met was how I got introduced to other operas that have since become favorites. It was one of those Saturday Live at the Met intermission chats that I learned about the African-American Das Rheingold.
I started watching performances of Madame Butterfly because of a novella I wrote where the focus was the popular song Poor Butterfly, obviously referencing Butterfly from the opera. Thanks for commenting.
Fascinating! Rabbit holes make research fun!
Have never actually seen an opera… just some Broadway plays.
Hi Jennifer, so true! The fun you have is precisely why you don’t want to stop. Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Colleen C., when I lived in New York and (it was affordable) Broadway plays, ballet and concerts were always my go to. I’m trying to remember if I ever saw an opera live. I always saw them thanks to channel thirteen Great Performances or Live from Lincoln Center broadcasts. Thanks for stopping by.
I’m not an opera fan but there have been some opera singers over the years that I kind of like. I mean, Andrea Bocelli, am I right?
I don’t like all opera, but there are individual songs that make my heart soar.
Hi Jennifer, I know what you mean. I still think opera singers before operas per se. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard Andrea Bocelli. I’ve got to look her up now. Uh oh, another rabbit hole. Thanks for commenting.
Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Mary, I hear you. There’s a song in Carlisle Floyd’s Willie Stark called Single Bed Blanket that speaks so eloquently to confronting injustice in the world I feel like taking to the streets each time I hear it. Thanks for commenting.
I have been to several. I cannot say that I have a favorite.
I guess is was kind of unfair for me to force people to make a choice without stepping up to the plate myself. Thanks for commenting.
Wow, I admit I didn’t realize that there are African American operas! That is so cool! I don’t often listen to opera, but apparently there is one that shares my name!
Hi, flchen! Unfortunately you’re not alone on that score. Like I shared I only knew of two. How amazing about your name! Any chance your parents knew that? Thanks for commenting.
Congrats to the winner—bn100! Michal will be in touch shortly to arrange delivery of your prize!
Thanks to everyone who played! And thanks to Michal/Anna for another wonderful post!