Graduate students present African-American history through opera lenses

McKenna Horsley

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Graduate students from UK’s School of Music presented a symposium discussion about African-American history, tension and ideals through opera in the Niles Gallery of the Fine Arts Library Friday afternoon.

UK Opera Research Alliance co-sponsored the symposium.

Associate professor of Musicology Diana Hallman brought graduate student papers together from two of her classes on opera politics, and opera history, because they “really have wonderful connections” and discussed similar themes of diversity representation in the theater.

“I thought this would be an ideal opening to a particular kind of dialogue in terms of the relationship between the arts and the depictions of race and racial history and such,” Hallman said.

Each student presented their research papers in 20 minutes followed by a 10-minute question and answer session to discuss the topic.

Kaylina Madison, who is working on her Ph.D in musicology and ethnomusicology, discussed how the Eugene O’Neill play “The Emperor Jones” contributed to negative African-American stereotypes in the early 20th century.

Louis Gruenberg later turned the play into an opera and stirred more controversy about the play for casting a white actor to play Brutus Jones, the main antagonist.

Musicology and ethnomusicology graduate student Nathaniel Lucy connected the opera “Many a Thousand Gone” written by Brian Cane, for his master thesis at Southwest Missouri State University, to the Memorial Hall mural discussion at UK.

“Many a Thousand Gone” was based off a book of the same name about an event in 1906, in which residents in Springfield, Missouri hung three black men in the town square in an event later known as the “Easter Offering.”

“The discussion started by public art, whether a mural or an opera, can help a community negotiate its past for a better future,” Lucy said.

Iris Fordjour-Hankins, who is studying for her doctor of music degree, researched the Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison opera “Margaret Garner,” which is based off the story of a Northern Kentucky slave in the in the 19th century. In the opera, Garner murders her children after they are found escaping slavery.

“I want you to know that there is no such thing as too much love, but there is too much hate,” said Fordjour-Hankins.

Musicology and enthomusicology graduate student Kathryn Caton did her presentation on the 1980 opera “Satyagraha.” Phillip Glass’s “Satyagraha” was based on Mahatma Gandhi’s life and philosophies.

“Whatever intentions Glass may or may not had, ‘Satyagraha’ places some of this world’s most incendiary issues through a specific ideological lens,” Caton said.