A local opera company will perform a long-ignored opera by an African-American to give children a message of education and forgiveness for all ages and races.
Opera NOVA, based in Arlington, will hold four performances of ragtime king Scott Joplin’s “Treemonisha” for school children and another for adults Feb. 28-March 4, but that is just the beginning.
“It is such a fine work that it should become as familiar to Americans as Aida and Carmen,” said Miriam Miller, president of Opera NOVA. “Written in 1910, it was not performed until 1975 because producers didn’t believe an African-American could write an opera.” It was also groundbreaking, she says, that a young woman had such a dominant role in pre-women’s suffrage times.
An ensemble of world-class talent will perform the abbreviated one-hour opera at Thomas Jefferson Middle School Theater in Arlington, starting at the tail end of Black History Month in February. Among the singers will be Jocelyn Hunt and Elise Jenkins, who have performed with Opera NOVA before.
Children from invited schools will see the program at 10 a.m. on Feb. 28 through March 3. Adults will be able to see it on Saturday, March 4 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The price is $4 for children and $8 for adults. Schools that would like their children to attend should contact Miller at 703-536-7557 or firstname.lastname@example.org. People can use the same contact information for the Saturday performance, which is also intended for the under-served community of seniors, part of Opera NOVA’s mission.
Selected in tribute to African-Americans in the community, “Treemonisha” goes beyond the universal romantic love theme of most operas. “Treemonisha” emphasizes Joplin’s belief in the importance of education in wiping out superstition, mysticism and prejudice.
The story centers around a group of former slaves living in an Arkansas community in 1884 and plagued by a group of men selling townsfolk expensive bags of luck to hang over their doors. An 18-year-old girl, Treemonisha, persuades them to ignore the superstitions. After the men kidnap her, she gets the townspeople to forgive them.
Though Joplin is known for his ragtime pieces, such as “Twelfth Street Rag,” “Treemonisha”” is written in the classical opera tradition, marrying music, singing, drama, poetry and dance. Director Roger Riggle and Artistic Director Jose Sacin have assembled an experienced cast of opera performers to put on this opera.
Since 1992, Opera NOVA, previously known as the Opera Guild of Northern Virginia, has been extending the range of the opera audience to children, minorities and others who may not be familiar with this art form. In 2015, the company produced a one-hour version of Puccini’s “Barber of Seville” at Thomas Jefferson Community Theater in Arlington for children and adults.
“Our mission is to inspire children through exposure to the magical art of opera” said Jose Sacin. “Opening their eyes and minds provides a world of new opportunities, directions and hopes for them.”