I frequently write about how people often don’t feel arts and cultural events are for them is because they aren’t seeing themselves and their stories portrayed. So it was with some interest that I read about Opera Philadelphia’s effort to provide a free high definition broadcast of their 2017 opera, We Shall Not Be Moved, which uses the 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound by the city of Philadelphia as a starting point.
Opera Philadelphia has a history of providing free opera broadcasts on Independence Mall. They are particularly interested in presenting this broadcast because so many people were unable to see the live performance. I was surprised to learn the public broadcast will cost as much as $160,000. Right now they are running a crowdfunding campaign for the last $25,000.
What I was most interested in learning was the details of the original production which involved music by Daniel Bernard Roumain, libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the direction and choreography of Bill T. Jones, all luminaries in their respective fields. It is no surprise to me that they would be involved with the project because they each have a history of working with communities to help them tell their stories.
The students from Art Sanctuary had the opportunity to work with these artists as the piece was developed. We Shall Not Be Moved had its world premiere during O17 at the Wilma Theater, then moved on to Harlem’s Apollo Theater and the Opera Forward Festival in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, it was presented by Dutch National Opera; as noted on the crowdfunding page, the reception there “proved that this timely, Philadelphia-based work could also find relevance with the wider international community.”
Readers may be aware via the Adaptistration blog/Drew McManus that Rob Deemer has been leading an effort to create the Composer Diversity Database in order to make it easier to more broadly program concerts and create music for any sort of artistic projects, including films, video games and of course, operas.
The success We Shall Not Be Moved has had is just another small piece of evidence that there is an audience and interest in projects that don’t appear in or confirm closely to characteristics of the traditional canon. It bears noting that often these projects aren’t developed and promoted in a traditional manner and that may factor largely into the breadth of their appeal.