Music by Anthony Davis
Libretto by Richard Wesley
I have devoted myself to the creation of works that bring to light issues of political and social significance. Particularly my operas have addressed pivotal events and figures in American history with a focus on the issues of race and justice. - Anthony Davis
In 1980's New York, five African American and Latino teenagers were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were unjustly convicted of a Central Park rape but exonerated through DNA evidence thirteen years later. Davis' opera is a passionate story about an issue that still rocks America today.
The Central Park Five is an opera that remains talked about today even more than 30 years after the initial events occurred.
A study by the National Registry of Exonerations found that black people convicted of murder or sexual assault are significantly more likely than their white counterparts to be later found innocent of the crimes. The study reviewed nearly 2,000 exonerations nationwide between 1989 and 2017. Innocent blacks also had to wait disproportionately longer for their names to be cleared than innocent whites.
Anthony Davis about opera
I think operas work on multiple levels, and certainly a visceral level is one that I’m very concerned with. I want the audience to have an emotional experience that involves identifying with the characters and putting yourself in their place. I am hoping that The Central Park Five will play an important role in understanding where we are after “Ferguson” and how such incidents of racial injustice are rooted in racial fear and hatred.
In my career as a composer, I have devoted myself to the creation of works that bring to light issues of political and social significance. Particularly, my operas have addressed pivotal events and figures in American history with a focus on the issues of race and justice. My first opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, premiered at New York City Opera in 1986 and was a revolutionary work both in subject matter and musical content. The work treated Malcolm X as a tragic hero who negotiates profound changes of identity from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X and El Hajj Malik el Shabazz.
I continued to explore the political realm in several of my other operas, including Tania, based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, Amistad, based on the rebellion and subsequent trial of Mende captives, Wakonda’s Dream based on the trial of Standing Bear in the 1870’s, and Lilith, a meditation on Adam’s first wife and the eternal conflict of man and woman. It should be noted that both operas X and Amistad preceded the films by Spike Lee and Stephen Spielberg.
All these works indicate my continued and sustained concern with our ongoing political struggle. These pivotal events in our history offer windows into understanding who we are today and how we arrived at our present situation. The slogan, “Black Lives Matter” is not only an important political statement but it also the central focus of my work as an artist and composer.
The Central Park Five Case
In the early hours of April 20, 1989, a woman barely clinging to life was discovered in Central Park. Assaulted and left for dead, the 28-year-old jogger, Trisha Meili, would survive grave injuries and a coma with no memory of the events. Within days of the attack, Antron McCray, 15; Kevin Richardson, 14; Yusef Salaam, 15; Raymond Santana, 14; and Korey Wise, 16, implicated themselves in Meili's rape and beating after hours of psychological pressure and aggressive interrogation at the hands of seasoned homicide detectives.
The police announced to a press hungry for sensational crime stories that the young men had been part of a gang of teenagers who were out "wilding," assaulting joggers and bicyclists in Central Park that evening. The ensuing media frenzy was met with a public outcry for justice. The young men were tried as adults under New York laws of the day — and convicted, despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excluded them, and no eyewitness accounts that connected them to the victim.
On December 19, 2002, Justice Charles J. Tejada of the Supreme Court of the State of New York granted a motion to vacate the thirteen-year-old convections in the infamous case. He did so based on new evidence: a shocking confession from a serial rapist, Matias Reyes, and a positive DNA match to back it up. A year later, the men filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked toward their conviction. A settlement in the case for $41 million, supported by Mayor Bill De Blasio, was approved by a federal judge on September 5, 2014. Santana, Salaam, McCray, and Richardson will each receive $7.1 million from the city for their years in prison, while Wise will receive $12.2 million. (PBS)
Anthony Davis - Composer
Davis (born February 20, 1951), is an American pianist and composer. He incorporates several styles including jazz, rhythm 'n' blues, gospel, non-Western, African, European classical, Indonesian gamelan, and experimental music. He is best known for his operas. X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, which played to sold-out houses at its premiere at the New York City Opera in 1986, was the first of a new American genre: opera on a contemporary political subject. The recording of X was released on the Gramavision label in August 1992 and received a Grammy Nomination for "Best Contemporary Classical Composition" in February 1993. Davis's second opera, Under the Double Moon, a science fiction opera with an original libretto by Deborah Atherton, premiered at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis in June 1989. His third opera, Tania, with a libretto by Michael-John LaChiusa and based on the abduction of Patricia Hearst, premiered at the American Music Theater Festival in June 1992. A recording of Tania was released in 2001 on Koch, and in November 2003 Musikwerkstaat Wien presented its European premiere. A fourth opera, Amistad, about a shipboard uprising by slaves and their subsequent trial, premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in November 1997. Wakonda's Dream premiered at Opera Omaha in 2007.
Richard Wesley - Librettist
Wesley is an Associate Professor in playwriting and screenwriting at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He was educated at Howard University in Washington, DC, graduating with a BFA in 1967. His plays include, The Black Terror, a Drama Desk winner, produced at the New York Shakespeare Festival's Public Theatre, in 1971; The Mighty Gents, an Audelco Award winner, premiered on Broadway in 1978. The 1970s also saw Prof. Wesley embark on a motion picture career, penning screenplays for the motion pictures, Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let's Do It Again (Warner Bros., 1975), Native Son (1984) and Fast Forward (Columbia Pictures, 1985). Prof. Wesley's teleplays include Murder Without Motive (1991), Mandela And De Klerk (1997), and Bojangles (2000). He has also written episodes for the television series, Fallen Angels and 100 Centre Street.
In 1980's New York, five African American and Latino teenagers were convicted of a Central Park rape, but exonerated through DNA evidence thirteen years later. Davis' opera is a passionate story about an issue that still rocks America today.
Tenor Nathan Granner, is hailed by The Boston Globe for his “vibrant and flexible” voice. Highlights include: Nika Maggadoff (The Consul) and Dr. Morel (The Invention of Morel) with Long Beach Opera, Nemorino (L'elisir d'amore), Ferrando (Cosí fan tutte), Curly (Oklahoma!), and Rodolfo (La Bohéme) with Lyric Opera Kansas City, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Tulsa Opera, Wolf Trap and Glimmerglass Opera. Additionally, Mr. Granner performed 2 consecutive seasons at Spoleto USA, and is a founding member of The American Tenors, whose Sony Masterworks album reached the top five in the classical crossover charts.
“A bass-baritone of considerable power and agility” (The Chicago Tribune). Past LBO productions include Elektra, Ceiling/Sky, Fairy Queen, The Consul, Invention of Morel and The Best of 20. He has also performed with Los Angeles Opera, The Industry Opera, Chicago Opera Theatre, Savonlinna Opera Festival of Finnland, Banlieurs Bleues Festival of France and the Ravinia Music Festival, to name a few. He has appeared with Pacific Symphony, Arizona Symphony, Santa Fe Symphony, Luckman Jazz orchestra, Pasadena Pops Orchestra, California Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Telemann Chamber Orchestra of Japan. www.cedricberry.com.
Bernard Holcomb is thrilled to be returning to Long Beach Opera. He debuted with LBO as David in John Adams’ I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw The Sky in 2014 and was most recently seen as Tristan in Le Vin Herbé in the 2017/18 season. Mr. Holcomb’s recent engagements include his Seattle Opera Debut in Porgy and Bess, and the world premiere of Princess Sophia with Orpheus Opera in Juneau, Alaska. Mr. Holcomb has performed on many operatic stages across the United States and the world including Michigan Opera Theatre, Dresden Semperoper, Hamburg State Opera, and Lyric Opera Of Chicago where he is an Alumnus of the prestigious Ryan Opera Center.
Since 2003, Mitisek has been LBO's Artistic & General Director. Recent LBO directing credits: The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, King Gesar, Macbeth, Tell-Tale Heart, Van Gogh, The Paper Nautilus, Ainadamar, and Maria de Buenos Aires. Recent LBO conducting credits:Thérèse Raquin, I was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky, The Death of Klinghoffer, Camelia la Tejana, and The Fall of the House of Usher (co-production with COT). Other conducting credits: Joruri in Tokyo, Don Giovanni (Seattle Opera), Madama Butterfly (Orlando Opera), Jane Eyre (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis) and Eugene Onegin (Teatro Municipal in Santiago de Chile). Mitisek has also conducted the Austrian and Italian premieres of Nixon in China. From 2012-2017 Andreas served Chicago Opera Theater as Artistic & General Director.
This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. Learn more at www.arts.ca.gov
Supported in part by a grant from the Arts Council for Long Beach and the City of Long Beach.
Long Beach Opera events are supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission