New opera in Interlochen to salute the life of 19th century sculptress Edmonia Lewis
In the spring of 2024, Interlochen Academy of Arts will present the first staging of the opera Edmonie by award-winning composer William Banfield. The opera celebrates Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907), the famous African-American and Native American sculptor of the 19th century.
Originally commissioned in 2000 by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, the opera spans Lewis’s courageous life from his birth in upstate New York, his turbulent days in the ‘Oberlin College and its studio training days in Boston, until its stunning move to Rome, Italy. In 1876, at the age of 32, Lewis captivated the world with his larger-than-life marble statue “The Death of Cleopatra” which now hangs in the Smithsonian. Even with major art exhibitions and commissions during her lifetime, she fell into oblivion at the turn of the 20th century, only to be “rediscovered” around 1970.
“We are delighted and honored to present the first stage version of William Banfield’s original opera Edmonia,” said Camille Colatosti, Vice President of the Interlochen Center for the Arts. “Interlochen Arts Academy students from a myriad of artistic disciplines will collaborate to celebrate this extraordinary 19th-century artist. Together, we continue to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, and create educational experiences that unite diverse perspectives.”
“Edmonia Lewis is one of the most documented and celebrated black cultural figures of the 19th century, yet her story is largely untold and her life forgotten,” said Bill Banfield. “The opera implores us to consider carefully what happens when we miss the rich legacies cultivated by the people and artisans all around us. I look forward to collaborating with the students of Interlochen to present his life and his remarkable work.”
The dramatic ups and downs of Lewis’s career are perhaps only surpassed by the staggering drama of his life itself. Accused of attempted murder by poisoning, befriended by Frederick Douglass, fearless by world travel as a single woman or racial barriers in the late 1800s, she defied the odds of her time. Through her art, she worked for Black and Native American rights and gender equality even as the American Civil War raged and ended.
A celebrated composer whose symphonies, operas and chamber works have been performed by major symphonies across the country, Bill Banfield is one of the most performed and recorded composers of his generation. He was twice a judge for the Pulitzer Prize in American Music. Banfield’s many academic appointments include professor of African studies and music and society at Berklee College of Music; as an endowed chair and professor of humanities, fine arts and music at the University of St. Thomas; and as assistant professor of African-American studies and music at Indiana University, where he developed the Undine Smith Moore collection of sheet music and manuscripts by black composers.
Interlochen Academy of Arts is the nation’s premier arts boarding school, where emerging artists turn passion and potential into purpose. Students undergo pre-professional training in music, dance, acting, visual arts, creative writing, and filmmaking alongside a strong academic program, preparing them to excel in the arts and beyond.
Interlochen Arts Academy’s 2024 production of Edmonia will be the culmination of a three-year interdisciplinary exploration of the music and art of the African diaspora. This unique program encourages students to study the history, culture and art of African Diaspora music and art, illuminating how related traditions, techniques and pioneers contribute to arts and culture. culture.
The exploration began in September 2021 when Yuval Sharon, Michigan Opera Theater Artistic Director Gary L. Wasserman, and acclaimed bass-baritone Davóne Tines led masterclasses on the Interlochen campus and worked with students from all over the world. disciplines. Additionally, in October 2021, guest artist Laurin Talese rehearsed and performed three project-related pieces with students from the Academy of the Arts: “This Love” by Talese, “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” by Duke Ellington and “Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II” People Who Live on the Hill.”
A major component of exploration will begin in the spring of 2022 when William Banfield begins his residency in Interlochen. Banfield will begin working on his original opera Edmonia with students in musical theatre, orchestra, opera, choir, visual arts and interdisciplinary arts. Additionally, he will lead a cohort of guest artists and guest chefs representing the African Diaspora.
Spring 2022 public events will include a concert with American jazz pianist, composer and bandleader Billy Childs, featuring works by Banfield; and a performance by the Billy Childs Ensemble and the Ying Quartet featuring students from the Academy of Arts. Banfield, Childs and the Ying Quartet will also hold masterclasses and rehearsals, meet with student groups and speak to the campus community.
Other guest artists who will participate in Interlochen’s exploration of the African diaspora include American jazz pianist and R&B singer Patrice Rushen in the fall of 2022. During the three-year exploration, guest artists will work with students from all divisions including Dance, Film and New Media, Theatre, Creative Writing and Visual Arts.
About Composer Bill Banfield
Dr. William “Bill” Banfield is Emeritus Professor and Founding Director of the African Studies/Liberal Arts Center at Berklee College of Music. A three-time judge and chairman of the Pulitzer Prize in American Music (2010/2016/2020), Banfield is an award-winning composer whose symphonies, operas, and chamber works have been performed and recorded by major orchestras across the country. .
In 2019, Banfield was named a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH), one of 12 Smithsonian Research and Cultural Centers. His work focuses on what he identifies as cultural cross-lines, describing the ways in which contemporary art and new works return and retain critical cultural connections. In 2002 he was a WEB Dubois Fellow at Harvard University and was appointed in 2001 by Toni Morrison to serve as a Visiting Professor at the Atelier at Princeton University.
For more information visit: interlochen.org