By Dawn Scotland
The Truth Reporter
The Toledo Opera held a livestreamed discussion in anticipation of its upcoming opera Blue. Blue, which features an all-black cast, will debut at the Valentine Theatre August 26th & 28th. The virtual discussion was moderated by Rhonda Sewell and featured composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson.
Blue is a unique story for the opera stage.
Originally derived from the experience NAACP theatre Award winning Tazewell Thompson lived as a Black man in America, the story of Blue is a composite of the 21st Century black experience.
A story that is needed and has been untold on the opera stage until now.
The livestreamed event started with a memoriam to Black lives lost to police brutality. Members of the Blue cast performed “The Talk” and the chilling “Lay My Burden Down” while victims’ photographs and names flashed across the screen.
Blue is a story birthed from the Black Lives Matter movement. Tony Award–winning composer Jeanine Tesori was commissioned to create a piece to address the crisis in 2015 and called on Thompson.
“We both felt that we needed to say something about what was going on in the country…”, said Thompson, “It seemed that every month there was something about a police officer killing an unarmed black boy or man.” He reflected on the murders of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. “It just seemed never ending.”
Thompson spoke at length about the current climate in America. “Those feelings that I have now I had then as well when I started to write the libretto.”
The story of Blue is not limited to the stage. A clip was shown from ‘Blue: Stories of Toledo’, a documentary created to tell Toledo stories involving police brutality. The documentary will debut February 23 at Mott Branch Library and will also be available livestreamed.
The film features local artist James Dickerson (Facebook @dirtykics), Shirley Green, PhD, retired lieutenant, and retired Sergeant Anita Madison. In the clip, Dickerson, a Toledo-native, shares a very painful story of being arrested, tazed and suffering a heart attack at the hands of the Toledo Police Department. Thompson reflected on the piece, “when I hear these stories from everywhere… it’s painfully familiar,” said Thompson, “I could have written for ever and ever and ever…” .
Thompson expressed the importance of Blue “I felt in my way, as an artist, I was contributing something to the stories… in my own way I have contributed to telling a story that hopefully will be part of healing.”
“But also more than that– that someone has recognized that it’s a theme, it’s an issue, it’s a problem, and it’s a crisis that has no self-life,” he stated, as he reflected on the recent shootings of two police officers in his residence in New York City and gun violence amongst teenagers in his neighborhood.
“Blue is the story of an African-American couple in Harlem filled with hope and fear for their activist teenage son. The mother worries for his future, the father while preparing his son for the realities of 21st Century America wrestles with his own identity: a Black man in blue.” [Alyssa Greenburg, director of community engagement at the Toledo Opera, presented the synopsis of the opera as quoted by Thompson.]
The show premiered at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2019 and received the Music Critics Association of North America 2020 Award for Best New Opera. It will run in Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis and internationally. The debut of Blue was originally scheduled for February but was postponed due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.
The discussion ended with a Q&A session from the livestream audience. Rhonda Sewell, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Arts Commission and the director of Belonging and Community Engagement at The Toledo Museum of Art moderated the discussion with the creators. The full event can be viewed on the Toledo Opera Facebook page and YouTube page.
The Toledo Opera is offering a unique experience to engage with the story before its debut. This event is the first of community programming presented by the Toledo Opera.
Upcoming community events for Blue:
‘Blue: Stories of Toledo’, documentary film screening and panel discussion at Mott Branch Library
Wednesday, February 23
6:00 pm Eastern
Free in-person event
RSVP requested to Luke Serrano at email@example.com
Artist Reception for Yusuf Abdul Lateef at River House Arts
Friday, February 26
River House Arts Gallery – 425 Jefferson Ave., Toledo, OH 43604
Blue is sponsored by Owens Corning, The National Endowment for the Arts, and Ohio Humanities (a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities).
Tickets can be purchased for blue via phone 419-255-SING or online at www.toledoopera.org/upcoming-performances/season-event/blue/