The Atlanta Opera will celebrate local Black historical figures in its upcoming 96-Hour Opera Project.

“Our goals are to lift up the inspirational stories that reflect the multicultural history of Atlanta, to amplify the voices of a diverse group of talented emerging creators, and to share these new creations with Atlanta music lovers,” said Tomer Zvulun, Atlanta Opera’s Carl W. Knobloch, junior artistic and general director.

The 96-Hour Opera Project sees five teams of composers and librettists chosen through a competitive application process.

The five teams then create a 10-minute opera scene centered around one of three predetermined Black historical figures. The local historical figures include:

  • Dr. Blanche Beatrice Saunders Thompson (c.1875 – 1964), one of the first Black physicians to perform surgery in Georgia
  • Carrie Steele Logan (c.1829 – 1900), founder of the oldest Black orphanage in America
  • Thomas Askew (c1847 – 1914), a prominent Black photographer

“The rich history of Atlanta rests not only in the lives of the most famous but in the courage and strength of even the most unacclaimed people,” said Zvulun.

The project will showcase on June 12 at 7 p.m. at the Ray Charles Center for the Performing Arts at Morehouse College.

The event is open to the public and tickets are $20.

A panel of judges will award the $10,000 Antinori Foundation Grand Prize to one of the creative teams. The Atlanta Opera will also commission future work from the winning team.

Hosted in partnership with Morehouse College School of Music, this is the second year the competition project has been held.

“Last year, we launched this annual competition to give an opportunity to composers and librettists from under-represented communities and as a way to expand our own footprint of inclusion and diversity,” said Zvulun.

This year, Morris Robinson will return as artistic director. Research and support for the productions was provided by Oakland Cemetery Foundation and Atlanta History Center for the historic Atlantans.

The June 12 event will also include a sneak peak of the 2022 winner’s upcoming production. Commissioned by the Atlanta Opera from Marcus Norris and Adamma Ebo, Forsyth County Is Flooding with the Joy of Lake Lanier, is scheduled to premiere in 2024.

Summaries of each of the five, 10-minute operas follow below.

The Cost Of Healing by Edward Shilts and Laura Barati

The Cost of Healing is inspired by the life of Dr. Blanche Beatrice Saunders Thompson, one of the first Black physicians to perform surgery in Georgia. The opera follows Saunders as she coaches struggling med student (and her future husband) Sidney Thompson during her patient rounds. When Saunders and Sidney clash over her response to a prejudiced patient, Blanche pushes Sidney to imagine the impossible expectations a Black, Southern, female physician in 1903 must navigate. The Cost of Healing is both a celebration of Saunders’ tenacious spirit and an exploration of the challenges of Black Excellence.

The Gardener by Jorge Sosa and Alejandra Martinez

The year is 1900. We see a young woman crying on the tomb of Carrie Steele Logan, in Oakland Cemetery. As she mourns, the scene transitions to the day when her birth mother met Carrie at the Atlanta Train Depot. Her mother was about to abandon her baby, as she was not able to parent the child herself. Carrie convinces her to leave the child in her care. She will become her parent. Carrie has a revelation; she will work to provide a home for children in need.

Steele Roots by Dave Ragland and Selda Sahin

In 1887 Atlanta, a 50-something Carrie Steele Logan stands in Central Railroad Station holding a baby. Michael, a man in his 20s in modern-day clothes exits a train, and we transition to the present-day Oakland Graveyard, and as Michael stands at Carrie’s grave, we realize that he is a descendant of one of the many abandoned babies Carrie saved and cared for long ago. In a nebulous, abstract merging of time and place, we learn that the baby Carrie holds is Michael’s.

Face in the Flames by Nathan Felix and Anita Gonzalez

Picture frames and haunting memories emerge from the embers of the Atlanta fire as a mother and daughter remember the legacy of Thomas Askew. His photos of their dignity endure when all is lost, and the world is aflame.

A Portrait by Omar Najmi and Catherine Yu

It is the spring of 1900, and Thomas Askew’s prominence as a photographer is rising. He is in his studio taking the portrait of a realist school mistress who challenges his ideals. They are both Republicans, the party of President Lincoln, but their discussion is charged with the nuances within the party. Where will the dust settle when their conversation ends?

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