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GBH Music Presents Deconstructing Opera: Omar with Rhiannon Giddens and the BLO

In 1807, 37-year-old Fula Islamic scholar Omar Ibn Said was captured and forced to leave his home in West Africa on a ship bound for Charleston, South Carolina, where he was sold into slavery. Making its New England premiere with Boston Lyric Opera, this record of Said’s remarkable life and Muslim faith reveals a refusal to be defined or erased by his captors. Through the shifting darkness of memories and imagination, Omar invites us to bear witness to one man’s journey in remaining true to himself, his people, and his faith – against all odds.

GBH Music and Boston Lyric Opera presented MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient and Grammy Award-winning musician and composer Rhiannon Giddens in conversation with renowned scholar of Black music and culture, and co-host of the GBH News podcast All Rev’d Up Emmett G. Price III about the New England premiere of Omar, composed by Giddens and Michael Abels (score for Get Out and Us), with libretto by Giddens. The live streamed conversation was combined with musical performances from members of the cast.

This event featured:

Rhiannon Giddens, Omar co-composer and librettist
Emmett G. Price III, host, scholar of Black music and culture

Cierra Byrd, mezzo-soprano (playing the role of Omar’s mother)
Brianna J. Robinson, soprano, BLO Jane and Steven Akin Emerging Artist
Brendon Shapiro, piano

Bradley Vernatter, Boston Lyric Opera General Director & CEO
Anthony Rudel, Executive Producer and General Manager, GBH Music

Music selections:

“My son, my son, Omar” (Mother’s Aria) from Omar, sung by Cierra Bird,
“My Daddy Wore a Cap, Like Yours” from Omar, sung by Brianna J. Robinson, understudy for the role of Julie

This event was live streamed and recorded at GBH Fraser Performance Studio.

The acclaimed musician Rhiannon Giddens uses her art to excavate the past and reveal bold truths about our present. Giddens’s lifelong mission is to lift up people whose contributions to American musical history have previously been erased, and to work toward a more accurate understanding of the country’s musical origins. A MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, Giddens co-founded the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops and is now a two-time winner and eight-time Grammy nominee for her work as a soloist and collaborator. In 2020, she was named Artistic Director of the Silk Road Ensemble for whom she is creating programs including one inspired by the history of the American transcontinental railroad and the cultures and music of its builders. Her opera Omar debuted at the Spoleto Festival in 2022 and had its New England premiere with Boston Lyric Opera in May 2023.

Thanks to our partner, the Boston Lyric Opera.