Commentary: Redemption, writ large, in L.A. Opera’s divine ‘Omar’
January 30, 2017
L.A. Opera’s new production of “Omar” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which opens at the Hollywood Bowl Feb. 6, is part of a new opera season in which the company seeks to present the works of African American composers.
On Friday, the company announced a new opera that will make use of a number of African-American classical composers, among them composer Harold Johnson, who was born in West Virginia and who wrote “Omar.”
In a post on the L.A. Opera website, artistic director James Woolley described Johnson’s work as: “a deeply emotional musical exploration of the power of love and the deep human emotions we all experience in the depths of our hearts.”
Woolley noted that a number of African-American composers wrote opera and that Johnson’s “Omar,” which is set in the late 18th century to the tune of the blues, is “a deeply personal and personal piece of music that reflects the history, the struggles, and the power of the African American experience in America.”
“I’m fascinated by the fact that the classical concert world has been very hesitant to do work that could directly address the experiences of African Americans,” Woolley said. “This is not a history that the public is interested in. It’s a history of prejudice and persecution in the United States. This is a piece that is not easy for the audience to listen to.”
“Omar” is based on a poem by Johnson called “An African Dilemma,” which it translates as “Of the Death of an African.” The title derives from the original title of Johnson’s short story, which originally appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1897. That story was later expanded into a novel, called “The Nigger of the Narcissus” (The Life of John J. Alcock, by William Dean Howells, 1874), and the title of which derives from John J. Alcock (1830-1875) and his son-in-law, the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was the protagonist of the book.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Omar” will have 11 scenes, with three acts, and is set in a “world