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Set in the years preceding the Civil War, Margaret Garner is a powerful and uplifting story of love of family while dealing with the explosive issue of slavery. The opera tells the tragic real-life story of Margaret Garner, a fugitive slave who killed her two-year old daughter and attempted to kill herself and her other children when faced with capture and return to bondage. She was imprisoned and subjected to a sensational trial that brought into question the Fugitive Slave Act, and pitted slave owners against abolitionists, as Margaret was tried and found guilty for the destruction of property.
In its day, this famous trial underscored the turmoil that would result in the American Civil War. Today, more than one hundred fifty years after these events, Margaret Garner speaks to us of historical events that echo in contemporary times. Opera Carolina, the largest professional opera company in the Carolinas proudly presents this work -- conceived and performed by a creative team of white and black Americans – in celebration of our common culture, and our shared experience as Americans.
We recognize Time Warner Cable as Presenting Sponsor for Opera Carolina's production of Margaret Garner and TIAA-CREF as Presenting Sponsor for the Toni Morrison Lecture (see below). Support for the Margaret Garner education and community programs is provided by the Foundation for the Carolinas Social Capital Fund and the Arts & Science Council.
The slaves return from another day's toil in the fields. Cilla, the mother of Margaret's husband, Robert, joins the couple for supper; their spirits are light-hearted until Casey, Maplewood's foreman, arrives with shocking news. Robert is being sent away that night to another plantation, but Margaret is to remain at Maplewood — where she will work, at the Master's request, in the main house.
Gaines hosts a lavish reception to celebrate his daughter Caroline's marriage. An argument erupts between Edward and his new son-in-law, George, about the nature of love; to break the tension, the newlyweds begin a waltz. After the dance, Caroline asks Margaret, now the house servant, for her views on love. The guests are outraged to hear her solicit a slave's opinion, and leave abruptly. Offended, Gaines lashes out at Caroline. Later, Gaines lingers, unseen, to watch Margaret clean the parlor. He accosts her, forcibly dragging her away.
ACT II. Anticipating a visit from Robert, Margaret goes to Cilla's cabin. She becomes agitated when she finds her packing and the children missing, until Cilla discloses that Robert plans an escape attempt that evening. Margaret is overwhelmed when he arrives and confirms the news, but disconcerted that Cilla refuses to join them. Casey suddenly storms into the cabin; a struggle ensues which ends with Robert strangling Casey to death.
Robert and Margaret escape from Maplewood, and are living in an underground shed in Ohio. Robert asserts that freedom and dignity are nearly theirs. But Gaines suddenly arrives to claim his property, and captures Robert. Margaret attempts to burn Gaines with fiery coals, and witnesses his men lynching Robert. Enraged, she murders her children so they will be spared slavery's horrors. Darkness again envelops the stage briefly. With defiant grandeur, Margaret then embraces her life's circumstances.
Gaines transports Margaret back to Kentucky to stand trial for the "theft and destruction" of the children, considered his property. Caroline protests that Margaret should properly be charged with murder, for the children were human beings. The judges sentence Margaret to be executed for theft. When Caroline begs her father to seek clemency, Gaines realizes he must choose between the love of his radical daughter and a traditional way of life. Great sorrow fills the air as the townsfolk await Margaret's execution. At dawn, she is led to the scaffold. Gaines runs in, waving a document — the judges have granted Margaret clemency! On the gallows, Margaret expresses her desire to live peacefully in a just world, and then seizes "freedom" by hanging herself. Edward realizes that peace never will be his. Although he made the "right" choice — to fight for Margaret's freedom — he did it for the wrong reason: he wanted to win his daughter's respect. The onlookers proclaim a need for repentance, and pray that Margaret's final journey home is a peaceful one.
The chorus gets the most memorable music, from the ominous fugal Prologue, to Act I's jubilant "A Little More Time" and raucous "Harvest Song," to the sorrowful yet uplifting Epilogue.
Edward Gaines, the baritone (and nominal villain of the piece) gets two memorable arias: "I Remember" in Act I, a lyrical, bittersweet reflection on the childhood home he left behind; contrasted with "Nothing, I See Nothing," the churning, agonized aria he sings near the end of Act II.
Another vocal highlight is the soprano aria "He Is By," sung by Margaret's mother-in-law, Cilla – this solemn, ethereal hymn of sacrifice at the beginning of Act II serves as the calm before the storm.
Of course, the composer saved plenty for Margaret Garner herself: the mezzo sings a number of lyrical gems, including a haunting Lullaby in Act I, two meltingly emotional love duets with her husband, and "A Quality Love" – the show-stopping aria that serves as the heart of the opera.
Grammy-Award winning composer Richard Danielpour is one of the most gifted and sought-after composers of his generation. His music has attracted an illustrious array of champions, and, as a devoted mentor and educator, he has also had a significant impact on the younger generation of composers. His music has been commissioned by symphonies across the world, including the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia and Stuttgart Orchestras, Orchestre National de France, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. His work has been championed by Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Dawn Upshaw, Emanuel Ax, Frederica von Stade, and Thomas Hampson. Richard Danielpour has received such prestigious honors as a Lifetime Achievement Award and Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, a Guggenheim Award, Bearns Prize from Columbia University, and grants and residencies from the Barlow Foundation, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Copland House, and the American Academy in Rome. In Fall 2002, he became one of the first recipients of a coveted Alberto Vilar Fellowship and Residency at the American Academy in Berlin. One of the most recorded composers of his generation, his music can be heard on SONY, Reference Recordings, Delos, Koch, Harmonia Mundi, and New World.
Toni Morrison (February 18, 1931 - )
One of the most honored writers of our time, Toni Morrison has received the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (Paris) among many other awards. A Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison's seven novels, The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, have received extensive critical acclaim. She has edited several books of essays on a wide variety of subjects. Ms. Morrison has written lyrics for Kathleen Battle, (commissioned by Carnegie Hall), Sylvia McNair, and Jessye Norman. She was a senior editor at Random House for twenty years.
Toni Morrison is a founding member of the Academie Universelle Des Culture, a trustee of the New York Public Library, member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and The International Parliament of Writers and Author's Guild. She served on the National Council of the Arts, and is a member of the Africa Watch and Helsinki Watch Committees on Human Rights. Toni Morrison was appointed Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University in the Spring of 1989.