Monday, June 22, 2020

OperaWire: Opera Profile: William Grant Still’s Historic ‘Troubled Island’ [1:49:36]


June 22, 2020

By David Salazar

William Grant Still’s “Troubled Island” is a historic opera.

The work, which includes a libretto by Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey, had its world premiere on March 31, 1949, at the New York City Opera making it the first opera composed by a Black composer to be produced by a major opera company in the United States.

The opera is set in Haiti in 1791 and centers on a group of slaves preparing a rebellion against their White tormentors. The slaves are led by Dessalines, who laments, alongside his wife Azelia, the challenges of being in love in his state of bondage. His friend Martel laments the fate of the Black man as a slave.

A voodoo priest and priestess tell the slaves that it is time to strike for freedom. Dessalines rips off his shirt, bares his scars from the whips of the white men, and makes a stand for freedom.

In the second act, Dessalines is now Emperor. He dictates letters to Vuval, who opposes his regime and laughs at him for wanting schools and other nonsense. Dessalines drives Vuval away.

Dessalines comments on the heavy burden he carries to Martel and his desire to have just land where black people can be separate from white people. Martel, however, tells him that Haiti must be a land of equality for all people. Meanwhile, Dessalines’ new Empress Claire plots with Vuval to overthrow Dessalines.

No comments: