Opera Symposium Explores Gender, Race and Power

Friday, February 07, 2020

Opera Wilmington’s symposium continues to explore diversity in opera by hosting the Caterina Jarboro memorial recital and lectures. The fifth annual symposium, “Exploring Opera & Beyond: Gender, Race and Power in Mozart’s The Magic Flute,” is scheduled for Feb. 21-22.

“This year’s theme reflects our desire to open up conversations about how a beloved, canonic work created over two hundred years ago in Vienna speaks to us today in Wilmington, North Carolina,” said Nancy King, Opera Wilmington's artistic director and professor of music at UNCW. “A work like The Magic Flute offers the opportunity to honestly discuss issues like power, race and gender in a meaningful way. In essence, using the opera as a touchpoint for improved cultural awareness, constructive response and responsible citizenship.”

Soprano Leah Hawkins will be the featured performer for the memorial recital on Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Beckwith Hall in the Cultural Arts Building with pianist David Heid. She will perform works by Verdi, William Grant Still and Ernest Chausson, featuring the Snipes Academy of Arts & Design choral students under the direction of Christa Faison ’13.

Hawkins is in her second season of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program with the Metropolitan Opera. This season she appears at the Met as the Strawberry Woman in Porgy and Bess and Masha in The Queen of Spades, sings the Verdi Requiem with the Colorado Symphony, and makes her Bayerische Staatsoper debut.

Keynote speaker Kristi Brown Montesano, chair of the music history faculty at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles and author of The Women of Mozart’s Operas, will discuss the many different narratives that come together in the libretto and music of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. She will highlight the challenges of staging this work for 21st century audiences. 

Artists and scholars have long wrestled with how to interpret and stage The Magic Flute, which from the beginning seemed a jumble of fairytale tropes and Masonic tradition. Aside from numerous inconsistencies in characterization and moral, the libretto of The Magic Flute is full of explicitly racist and misogynistic content that complicate the work’s long-time standing as a gateway opera for families and children.

“Opera Wilmington is hoping that an open dialogue will foster more cultural sensitivity and awareness, while still celebrating one of the most beloved operas in the repertoire,” said King.

Montesano’s lecture, “Controlling the Narrative: Challenges in Staging Mozart’s The Magic Flute,” is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 22 at 11:30 a.m. in Beckwith Recital Hall.

For a complete list of the opera symposium’s lectures and ticket information, visit symposium is free and open to the public. Tickets for the recital are $30 for the general public; $15 for UNCW faculty and staff; and $8 for children and students with valid UNCW ID. Tickets can be purchased online or at the UNCW Box Office in Kenan Auditorium, Monday through Friday from noon until 4 p.m. or by calling 910.962.3500.
Wilmington native Caterina Jarboro, who was the first female singer to break the color barrier in American opera, also became the first black woman to perform in a U.S opera house in 1933 as part of the Chicago Opera Company at Manhattan’s Hippodrome. The two-day memorial event is co-sponsored by the UNCW Department of Music, the Office of the Arts and the Office of Community Engagement. Opera Wilmington is the resident company of UNCW, providing scholarly opportunities for students and faculty in performance, design and music history and opera programs for residents throughout southeastern North Carolina.

-- Venita Jenkins