Mota’s opera premiere at the Crane School of Music
WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY)
The Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam is proud to present the world premiere workshop of “Mota”, an opera by William Grant Still (1939-1978), one of the first black composers and conductors in the United States. United.
A group of faculty, alumni and students will perform a workshop version of the opera on Friday, April 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sara M. Snell Music Theater. The event will also be streamed live online at the time of the concert, at potsdam.edu/cranelive.
Set in pre-colonial southern Africa, “Mota” follows the love story and tragedy between the main character and his love, Monase. The opera is in three acts, to a libretto by Verna Arvey (1910-1987), Still’s wife and longtime collaborator. “Mota” is set in Zululand and the ensemble sings primarily in Zulu. In village life, the wedding plan of Monase, Kayi’s daughter, is postponed due to conflicts with a neighboring tribe. After being repeatedly insulted by Mota, Kayi plots with Makibi for revenge, framing Mota for murder. Mota is sentenced to death, but at the crucial moment, Monase rushes towards him and is killed alongside him. The tragic love story ends with Kayi lamenting that revenge is a “terrible thing”.
Dr. William L. Lake Jr. will conduct and narrate the performance, accompanied by Joshua W. Barkley ’21, piano.
The cast includes:
- Shavon Lloyd ’19 (Kayi)
- Joy Jones ’12 (Monase)
- Naomi Steele ’22 (Sidade)
- Christopher Sierra, Guest Assistant Professor of Voice (Mota)
- Ben Johnson ’22 (Makibi)
Eighteen voice students make up the Mota Ensemble, while seven members of the SUNY Potsdam Dance Ensemble will also perform original choreography by teacher Cynthia DuFault as part of the premiere.
The performance will be preceded by a short virtual musicology lecture by Dr. Lucy Caplan, an interdisciplinary historian of music and culture in the United States, with special interests in African-American music, opera, cultural criticism and the relationship between music and intellectual history.
‘Mota’ is performed courtesy of the William Grant Still Estate, with special thanks to the composer’s daughter, Judith Still.
About the composer:
William Grant AgainThe career of was composed of many “firsts”. He was the first African-American composer to have a symphony performed by a professional orchestra in the United States, the “African-American” Symphony No. 1 (1930). It was created by Howard Hanson and the Rochester Philharmonic. The New York premiere of the piece was given by the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in 1935. He also became the first African-American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States when he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936. In the world of opera, his “Troubled Island” was the first by an African American to be performed by a major opera company (New York City Opera, 1949), and that same opera was the first of an African American to be nationally televised. Still wrote over 150 compositions, including operas, ballets, symphonies, chamber works, and arrangements of folk themes, especially Negro spirituals, as well as solo instrumental, choral, and vocal works.
The premiere is free and the public is invited to attend. The performance will be streamed live on the Crane School of Music YouTube channel at concert time. To view the schedule and see other upcoming streaming performances, visit www.potsdam.edu/cranelive.
“Mota” is supported by the LoKo Arts Festival, made possible through the generosity and artistic vision of Kathryn (Kofoed) ’54 and Donald Lougheed (Hon. ’54). A mini symposium on black opera will take place this year during the LoKo festival, with an encore screening of “Mota” on May 1. For the full calendar of events, visit www.potsdam.edu/loko.
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