New Opera Tells How Racism in 1940s Georgia Backfired

Classic Arts News   New Opera Tells How Racism in 1940s Georgia Backfired
A Scholar Under Siege, a new opera about racism in 1940s Georgia, opens tonight at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

Georgia Southern music professor Michael Braz's opera tells the story of how the racist policies of former Georgia govenor Eugene Talmadge, a staunch segregationist, backfired against him when he orchestrated the firings in 1941 of several prominent university officials, after suspecting they wanted to integrate the schools.

The firings meant that the degrees of Georgia's 10 white colleges were almost worthless; enraged voters then unseated Talmadge when he came up for re-election in 1942.

"I'm not an opera fanatic, but to me opera is not a bad way to tell a story," Braz told the AP. "Some of the characters in question were so operatic themselves, so flamboyant. Talmadge could range from being suave and debonair to absolutely manic and prone to rage."

Braz thoroughly researched archival material before writing his opera, in which all but one of the 23 singing roles are based on real people — from an Atlanta Constitution editor to a black custodian at the Statesboro college. The libretto contains many actual quotations from the characters, according to the AP.

The role of Talmadge is played by 23-year-old Georgia Southern student Pedro Carreras, the son of Cuban immigrants. He told the AP that he is well aware of the irony: "Talmadge is probably rolling over in his grave right now with me playing his role."

According to the AP, Braz's music ranges from "Wagnerian gravitas to jazzy, soft-shoe shuffles."

The opera was written for Georgia Southern's 100th anniversary celebration this year.

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