Rise for Freedom
Although he’s a poet by trade, he’s a musician at heart, so David Gonzalez has found becoming a librettist an enjoyable transition.“It’s been kind of a dream project,” he said regarding the commission to provide the words for “Rise for Freedom: The John P. Parker Story” by the Cincinnati Opera. “My first identity is music, playing guitar and composing, so writing a libretto falls right into these things.”
This commission arose from a previous commission from Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park to create “Finding North,” a one-man show based on the John P. Parker story.
After purchasing his freedom at the age of 18, Parker became a successful inventor and owner of an iron foundry in Ripley, Ohio.
For this opera, however, he chose to focus on one singular “adventure” in Parker’s life, Gonzalez said.
“In his autobiography, ‘His Promised Land,’ this adventure is a mere page or two, but it epitomizes his vision and fortitude,” he said. “The opera is part of the mythologizing of John Parker, so I was careful to give him real, human qualities.
The adventure begins when cruel Kentucky slave owner named Sroufe drunkenly dares him to come on his land and “run away” one of his slaves.
“He’d already done 300 missions,” Gonzalez said, “so we need to explore why he’d do another one. He had a family to support, and this was a very risky endeavor, so why would he want to help out this unknown person?”
Gonzalez said that when he wrote the words, he created his own melodies in his head to make sure that the text was musical enough, even though composer Adolphus Hailstork never heard — and consequently didn’t use — any of them.
“It was really just an intuitive way to judge the sound of the words, the balance of vowel sounds and rhymes, the rhythms. All of that was very important to me and (Hailstork) was very complimentary.”
In addition to public performances, Cincinnati Opera is presenting eight school-day performances and a series of related community programs leading up to the opera’s premiere.
“It’s a very rare thing that a work for young people is given such credence and support from a major institution,” Gonzalez said. “Young people’s art is often treated as a B job, but this is an A job all around. Everyone involved is an artist at the highest level.”
- WHAT: “Rise for Freedom: The John P. Parker Story” by Adolphus Hailstork and David Gonzalez
- WHERE: Jarson-Kaplan Theatre, Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut, Cincinnati
- WHEN: Oct. 13-21
- COST: $15 adults; $10 students
- MORE INFO: (513) 241-2742; www.cincinnatiopera.com
MEET THE CAST
Singing the role of John P. Parker is renowned bass Terry Cook who made his Cincinnati Opera debut in the role of Colline in La Bohème (1994). Mr. Cook is well-known for his numerous performances of Porgy in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, where he has been recognized for creating “an endearing Porgy who instantly captured hearts with his beautiful smile and glorious voice” (The Plain Dealer). He has appeared in New York Harlem Productions’s Porgy and Bess at Houston Grand Opera, Opera Bastille, and La Scala. Mr. Cook also has sung in more than twenty productions with the Metropolitan Opera, most recently in La Fanciulla del West, II Trovatore, A Masked Ball (telecast on PBS’s “Live from the Met”), and Les Troyens.
Soprano Andrea Jones-Sojola sings the role of Miranda Parker, John’s wife. Ms. Jones-Sojola is currently touring with the critically acclaimed trio 3 Mo Divas. A recent CCM Graduate, she was a member of the Artist-in-Resident program with Dayton Opera where she sang the roles of Frasquita in Carmen and Papagena in The Magic Flute. Ms. Jones-Sojola sang the role of Lonnie, Muhammad Ali’s wife, in Muhammad Ali: Outside the Ring with Kentucky Opera. She even had the honor of singing it for the “Champ” himself.
Returning to sing the role of Reverend John Rankin is tenor Daniel Weeks. Mr. Weeks, who has performed with Cincinnati Opera on numerous occasions, was commended for his “strong performance” (Cincinnati Enquirer) as Don Basilio in the Marriage of Figaro (2002). A member of the applied voice faculty of the University of Louisville since 1998, Mr. Weeks has become an integral part of the vocal program at the university while maintaining an active recital, concert, and operatic career.
Tenor Jeremy Cady, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky, portrays Sroufe, a slave owner. Mr. Cady has been a member of Cincinnati Opera’s The Corbett Foundation Young Artist Program for the past two seasons. He recently sang the role of Pang in Puccini’s Turandot with the Kentucky Opera.
Soprano Kearstin Piper Brown, who was a member of the 2007 Cincinnati Opera Resident Ensemble, sings the role of Mrs. McDowell, an enslaved woman. Tenor John Christopher Adams, a CCM student who sang in the Cincinnati Opera Chorus this past season, sings the role her husband, Mr. McDowell.
MEET THE CREATIVE TEAM
Adolphus Hailstork, Composer
Adolphus Hailstork’s symphonic, chamber, and choral works have been performed by major orchestras all over the nation, including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York, and have been led by renowned conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Daniel Barenboim, and Kurt Masur. Recognized for his range of compositional styles, this is Dr. Hailstork’s third opera. In 1995, Dayton Opera commissioned the new one-act opera Paul Laurence Dunbar: Common Ground. In 1999, the composer’s second symphony (commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra), and his second opera, Joshua’s Boots (commissioned by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the Kansas City Lyric Opera), were premiered. In 2002, James Conlon conducted Dr. Hailstork’s oratorio Done Made My Vow at the renowned Cincinnati May Festival.
A CD of Dr. Hailstork’s Symphonies No. 2 and 3, recorded by David Lockington with the Grand Rapids Symphony, was recently re-released. In 2006, the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus premiered Dr. Hailstork’s deeply moving Earthrise. His career also has included professorships at Youngstown State University in Ohio, Norfolk State University in Virginia, and Old Dominion University, also in Norfolk, Virginia, where currently he is Eminent Scholar and Professor of Music.
David Gonzalez, Librettist
Broadway playwright and librettist David Gonzalez has created numerous productions including The Frog Bride, nominated for a 2006 Drama Desk Award for “Unique Theatrical Experience,” and critically acclaimed shows ¡Sofrito! with Larry Harlow and The Latin Legends Band, and MytholoJazz with the D.D. Jackson Trio.
All three of these productions have enjoyed sold-out runs at Broadway’s New Victory Theater. His work Double Crossed: The Saga of the St. Louis, was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution’s Discovery Theater and has toured nationally including at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 2004, Mr. Gonzalez’s Finding North, a one-man play with music by Marvin Sewell, based on the Underground Railroad, premiered at the Tony-award winning Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park with the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His poetry has been featured at Lincoln Center’s Out-of-Doors Festival in 2001, Bill Moyers’ documentary Fooling with Words on PBS, as well as NPR’s All Things Considered. He received his doctorate in Music Therapy from New York University’s School of Education.
James R. Cassidy, Conductor
Music Director and Executive Director of the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra (KSO) since 1992, James R. Cassidy has many years of experience as an educator, arts administrator, and conductor. Under his leadership, the KSO has become the fastest growing orchestra in the United States. The KSO has grown more than tenfold in budget, launched summer and education programs, and has expanded the orchestra’s musical offerings by creating several Symphony-sponsored subsidiary groups. Recognized throughout the country for his innovative programming, Mr. Cassidy remains passionate about making symphonic music attractive, accessible, and affordable. A Florida native, Mr. Cassidy has been music director of the Florida Ballet Theatre and the Tampa Chamber Symphony. He has conducted the St. Petersburg Opera, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and the Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra. Mr. Cassidy holds degrees from the University of South Florida and the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.
Sheila Ramsey, Director
Sheila Ramsey, founder and artistic director of Dayton’s The Dream Keeper Theatre Company, has a long history with the Dayton arts community. One of the original resident artists with the Human Race Theatre Company, she also spent many years with Dayton’s nationally acclaimed education program, The Muse Machine, and has performed with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. Ms. Ramsey is faculty associate in the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures at Wright State University where she has directed a diverse selection of important contemporary plays including The Colored Museum, Home, A Soldiers’ Play, Inherit the Wind, From the Mississippi Delta, and Biloxi Blues. She was named Best Collegiate Production and Best Director 2004 by the Dayton City Paper for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Mary Tensing, Dramaturg
Cincinnati-based actor, playwright, director, and teacher Mary Tensing serves as dramaturg, assisting the team with historical research. In Cincinnati, she has performed in numerous productions including: The Christmas Carol (Playhouse in the Park), Durang Durang (The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati), and Ironmistress (The Women’s Theatre Initiative). A number of theatres have commissioned her to write new works: Rapunzel, Thanksgiving Eve, The Rockin’ Adventures of Peter Rabbit, Hansel and Gretel (The Children’s Theatre), Tales of the Baba Yaga, and Placing Out (The School for the Creative and Performing Arts). Also, she has directed One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace for The Women’s Theater Initiative, Neat by Charlayne Woodard for The Know Theatre Tribe, and her own version of Androcles and the Lion for The Children’s Theatre, as well as a number of touring productions for Cincinnati Opera’s Education Ensemble and Theatre IV.
Public Performances of Rise for Freedom
• Saturday, October 13 at 7 p.m. (includes opening night celebration at the Contemporary Arts Center)
• Sunday, October 14 at 3 p.m.
• Saturday, October 20 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
• Sunday, October 21 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Single tickets for Rise for Freedom are on sale now; adults $15 and children $10. For more information, please
contact the Cincinnati Opera Box Office at (513) 241-2742 or visit www.cincinnatiopera.org.