Tuesday, June 4, 2019

John Malveaux: SFCV.org: Anthony Davis Builds Operas From Headlines

John Malveaux (L) and Anthony Davis (R)

John Malveaux of 

Please see article from San Francisco Classical Voice 
Please see pic of John Malveaux (cap) and composer Anthony Davis.

San Francisco Classical Voice

Victoria Looseleaf

June 3, 2019

The words “Trump” and “opera” occurring in the same sentence might seem far-fetched, but for composer Anthony Davis, whose latest work, The Central Park Five, has its world premiere at Long Beach Opera on June 15, inserting a Trump figure was, in fact, integral to the story. Based on the notorious case of a quintet of African-American teenagers falsely accused and convicted of rape and assault after a 1989 attack on a white jogger — one in which presidential hopeful Donald Trump played an infamous role — the opera tops off a series of so-called ripped-from-the-headlines’ works that Davis has composed in his decades-long career.

Born in New Jersey in 1951 and having studied at Wesleyan and Yale universities, Davis is also known for his symphonic, choral and chamber works, with his first opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, playing to sold-out houses at its premiere at the New York City Opera in 1986. Considered the first contemporary political opera (John Adams’s Nixon in China would not be heard until the following year), X was hailed by The New Yorker’s Andrew Porter as a work that “brought new life to America’s conservative operatic scene.”

Davis’s second opera, a science fiction opus, Under the Double Moon, followed in 1989, with a 1992 recording of X receiving a Grammy Nomination for “Best Contemporary Classical Composition.” Switching operatic gears yet again, Davis turned to the 1974 abduction of heiress Patricia Hearst for his third opera, Tania. Bowing at the American Music Theater Festival in June 1992, a 2001 recording of that work was released on Koch, with the European premiere of Tania presented by Musikwerkstaat Wien in 2003.

Additional Davis operas include Amistad, a production of the Lyric Opera of Chicago that bowed in November, 1997. Set to a libretto by poet Thulani Davis, the composer’s first cousin who also wrote the libretto to X, the true story detailed the shipboard uprising by slaves and their subsequent trial. (Steven Spielberg’s movie of the same name was released in December, 1997.) The opera was directed by Tony Award-winner George C. Wolfe, who had previously reached out to Davis to compose the music for Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika for their Broadway openings in 1993.

In hewing to his operatic credo of dealing with issues of human and civil rights, Davis composed Wakonda’s Dream, which was given its premiere in 2007 by Opera Omaha. With a libretto by poet Yusef Komunyakaa, the work is based on the trial of Chief Standing Bear in the 1870s. And while his operatic output continues to grow, Davis also counts a number of orchestral works in his repertory, performed by, among others, the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and Beethoven Halle Orchestra of Bonn, with the La Jolla Symphony premiering the composer’s Amistad Symphony in 2009.

A tenured professor of music at UC San Diego for more than 20 years, Davis is also an acclaimed free-jazz pianist who formed the erstwhile octet, Episteme, as well as having played with such musical luminaries as Anthony Braxton and Leo Wadada Smith.

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