MacArthur Fellow and Grammy Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens is working on a new opera based on the autobiography of enslaved Muslim-African scholar and writer Omar Ibn Said. In 1807, Said was enslaved and transported from West Africa to Charleston, South Carolina, where the opera will have its premiere next spring at the Spoleto Festival USA.
Giddens, who has drawn on history and traditions in her work in the past, was commissioned to write the piece by Spoleto and Carolina Performing Arts. The 2020 festival will run May 22–June 7, with the complete lineup still to be announced.
The new opera is composed by and features a libretto by Giddens. The piece is co-composed by Michael Abels and will be conducted by John Kennedy, directed by Charlotte Brathwaite, and will feature Jamez McCorkle as Omar Ibn Said and Daniel Okulitch as the Master. To learn more visit Spoletousa.org.
Giddens, who had been tapped to step into Audra McDonald's shoes in Shuffle Along, is the co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, in which she sings and plays banjo and fiddle. Also a successful solo artist, she recently headlined and curated a concert with the Boston Pops celebrating the work of Black composers Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Billy Strayhorn, Eubie Blake, Florence Price, Hazel Scott, and more.
Said was born in approximately 1770 in what is now known as Senegal. A highly educated man, he was captured at age 37 and remained enslaved in the U.S. until his death in 1864. His autobiography is a rare 15-page document detailing his experience in his own words.