Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Tomorrow night, Thursday May 31st, there will be a one time performance, (for now at least) of a one act opera composed by Damien Sneed. Sneed created the work titled Empower, with the help of several high school students from the South Side of Chicago, many of whom are members of the cast. 

Ensemble with chorus in background
Drawing from their experiences growing up on the South Side, the story revolves around a group of high school kids who resolve to tell their own story about their lives and neighborhood in light of all the negative PR, as personified by a news reporter intent on creating a grisly picture of filth, crime, and all-round yuckiness.

The performance will be the fruition of a school year's worth of collaboration and rehearsals for the students and their professional partners. In addition to Mr. Sneed, the participating adults in the production are librettist Ike Holter, director Jess McLeod, Choreographer Tanji Harper, Visual Artist Ruben Aguirre, and Music Supervisor Kedrick Armstrong who directs an ensemble of ten musicians. Also appearing on stage will be Lyric Opera veterans, soprano Angela Brown and baritone Will Liverman. Tony Santiago and Melissa Foster from the company, were acting and vocal coaches respectively.

The opera is the collaboration between the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League, the first of what hopefully will be a long term relationship. The Urban League has served the African American community of Chicago since 1916, during the time of The Great Migration. Since then, the organization has done great works, serving as an advocacy group emphasizing employment, entrepreneurship, fair housing and education.

Will Liverman with members of the ensemble
My role in the production was to photograph members of a Senn High School choral group at the final dress rehearsal last night. The Senn kids were enlisted to play the role of a traditional Greek chorus, commenting on the action and giving support to the protagonists. In this production, the chorus is ensconced inside the frame of a building behind translucent screens at stage left. Depending on the lighting, the chorus could either be revealed or hidden behind the screen. 

Angela Brown, left, with a cast member who plays the snooty reporter
It all works to great effect. The occasional lack of polish of the ensemble members, they are after all, non-professionals performing in one of Chicago's premier music/drama venues, is more than made up by their enthusiasm and the fact that they are telling their own story. And what a story it is. Behind the artifice of stereotypes and assumptions, life goes on on the South Side of Chicago. This is as real as it gets; you're never going to find anything this close to authentic life on the stage of a grand opera house than this.

Here is the link to the Lyric Opera of Chicago web site featuring Empower. Tickets are still available, the proceeds of which will be returned into future programs such as this. 

Check it out if you can. It's a win win for all. 

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