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Opera Daily 🎶 — Daniel Bernard Roumain’s opera “We Shall Not Be Moved” with countertenor John Holiday
If the name John Holiday sounds familiar, you might have caught him on season 19 of NBC's The Voice, a vocal competition television series. Next week we will talk more about “the crossover” (when opera singers crossover from opera to other genres); however, today, we are going to focus on an important piece this countertenor (the highest male adult singing voice) performed with Opera Philadelphia in 2017.
Today we’re listening to…
"Love is the only word sweeter than black", an excerpt from Daniel Bernard Roumain’s contemporary opera We Shall Not Be Moved at Opera Philadelphia, with countertenor John Holiday. The opera We Shall Not Be Moved revisits the story of the 1985 bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia and that events’ impact on Philadelphia’s youth. Joyous, lyrical, and transcendent are the words that come to mind after hearing this piece.
🎧 Listen here (2 minute listen), Opera Philadelphia World Premiere, 2017, We Shall Not Be Moved, music by Daniel Bernard Roumain, John Little (tenor Daniel Shirley), John Blue (countertenor John Holiday), John Mack (baritone Adam Richardson), Un/Sung (spoken word artist Lauren Whitehead), and John Henry (bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock). Libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, director/choreographer Bill T. Jones
Leontyne Price once said that she could sing her thoughts and feelings much better than she could speak them. We touched on opera’s ability to tell meaningful stories in our post about Doctor Atomic by John Adams and We Shall Not Be Moved is another example of the opera’s ability to bring people together on subjects that are present in our society.
On the streets of Philadelphia, five teenagers -- John Henry, John Blue, John Little, John Mack and Un/Sung -- are on the run after a violent altercation. This chosen family finds a refuge in an abandoned building, which is the home of the MOVE organization and site of the 1985 bombing. They begin receiving messages from the spirits of MOVE, referred to as the OGs.
"Love is the only word sweeter than black" is an incredible scene from Act II, where John Blue, John Little and John Mack share the self-affirmation that they have learned from their spiritual guides, the OGs. This piece is sort of a spiritual for our time: “Love is the only word sweeter than black.”
If you want to learn more about this piece, the Opera Philadelphia website has an excellent synopsis, especially this behind-the-scenes video of the making of We Shall Not Be Moved.
I want people to get on. I am not interested in anarchy, and I certainly don’t want bloodshed, but I do want this thing called “truth”. - Bill T. Jones, director/choreographer
Want more contemporary opera?
Julia Bullock and J’Nai Bridges in an excerpt from an adaptation of John Adams’s oratorio “El Nino.”
Hymn from Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten,” with Nicholas Tamagna in a production at Indiana University (my alma mater!)
An excerpt of “Written on Skin” by George Benjamin, with Barbara Hannigan and Bejun Mehta.
An excerpt from “Breaking the Waves” by Missy Mazzoli, with Kiera Duffy.
Thank you for reading (and listening),
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