Saturday, May 29, 2021 A Black Composer’s Intense Opera Gets a Rare Staging: William Grant Still’s one-act “Highway 1, U.S.A.” runs in St. Louis through June 17

Credit...Eric Woolsey

The composer William Grant Still was a student of the renowned experimentalist Edgard Varèse, an arranger for the blues icon W.C. Handy and the creator of the enduringly winning “Afro-American Symphony.” Thanks to his rich catalog of symphonic and chamber music, Still, who died in 1978 at 83, was widely known as the pathbreaking “dean” of Black American composers.

But his operas have struggled to gain a foothold in the repertoire. “Troubled Island,” about the Haitian revolution and its aftermath, boasted a libretto by Langston Hughes and additional lyrics by Verna Arvey, a writer who was married to Still. It premiered at New York City Opera in 1949, but continues to wait for a second production. (A fascinating, if scratchy, recording of the premiere can be purchased from the Still estate.)

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