For the past two years WomenArts has been working to help composer Mary D. Watkins develop Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story, a full-length opera based on the inspiring true story of a woman civil rights leader in the 1960s. We are happy to announce that we have formed a partnership with the 60-piece Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra to produce a concert version of the opera in April 2014 as one of the highlights of this year’s Support Women Artists Now/SWAN Day celebrations.
Help Us Spread the Word About the Auditions
This opera has many roles for African-American opera singers. We are auditioning singers for the two leading roles (Fannie Lou Hamer and her husband) and for 12 ensemble members who will play a variety of African-American and Caucasian characters. Please forward this announcement to anyone who might be interested in auditioning.
The auditions will be held on Saturday, October 12 at the National Opera Center in New York, NY; on Sunday, October 13 at Boston University in Boston, MA; and on Sunday, October 20 at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. We are also auditioning in South Hadley for 2 child sopranos to play the young Fannie and her sister. To get more information about the available parts and to sign up for the auditions, please visit: www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/music/orchestra/opera-dark-river
About the Opera
Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story is an opera about Fannie Lou Hamer, the daughter of sharecroppers who was one of the first African-Americans to register to vote in Mississippi. She became a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and endured death threats, severe beatings, and imprisonment in order to obtain voting rights for her people.
As part of the growing national civil rights movement, Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Party challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention in 1964. Fannie Lou Hamer gave an electrifying speech that focused national attention on voter inequality. A year later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices.
Ng Tian Hui, the Music Director of the Mount Holyoke Orchestra, says that he selected this work for two reasons: “The story of Fannie Lou Hamer’s struggle for the rights of African-Americans resonated with me as an Asian transplanted to the U.S. Her story speaks to anyone who has ever experienced discrimination or the feeling of being an outsider. Also, I love working with contemporary artists like Mary D. Watkins who are creating their own musical styles. Dark River is classical music that is infused with elements of jazz, gospel, and blues. It is a wonderful musical challenge for me and the performers.”
WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards was deeply moved when she saw the original production directed by Darryl V. Jones at the Oakland Opera Theater in 2009. “We don’t often see stories that focus on the particular challenges faced by women activists,” Richards explains. “It was inspiring to see how Fannie Lou Hamer was constantly fighting sexism as well as racism but never gave up the struggle. I love stories about women who persevere and succeed even when all the odds are against them.” Thanks to a generous grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Richards has been able to work with composer Mary D. Watkins for two years as part of the WomenArts Harmony Project.
To learn more about Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story, please visit www.DarkRiverOpera.org.
About the Composer
Trained in classical music at Howard University, Mary D. Watkins has written for symphony orchestras, chamber and jazz ensembles, film, theatre, and choral groups, in addition to being a popular recording artist for Olivia records in the 1970s. Watkins’ recent recordings include Prayer for Peace, a meditational CD, and Recorded Music of the African Diaspora (Albany Records, 2010: Center For Black Music Research; department of Columbia College in Chicago, IL). Read More>>
Support This Opera!
We only have $20,000 left to raise for the Mount Holyoke performances of Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story. Gifts of any size will be greatly appreciated. If you would like to make an online gift earmarked for the opera, please Click Here>>
You can also mail a check to: Dark River Opera, c/o WomenArts, 1442A Walnut Street, Ste 67, Berkeley, CA 94709. Gifts of stock are also welcome. For details, please Contact Us>>