"I do not do straight-up opera," says Marilyn Kosinski, director of Oakland Lyric Opera. Although the company's productions are often operatic in tone, they are often more multicultural and less pretentious in slant than, say, your typical Davies Symphony Hall gala. And while you might hear a classical aria or two, the Lyric Opera's divas have also been known to wrap their lips around jazz, pop, and cabaret songs. The key word is diversity: Kosinski relates that one past production even featured a Chilean tenor singing in Spanish. The company's current production, Love Songs and Lullabies, focuses on seldom-heard expressions of African-American love and romance, with a special emphasis on what is traditionally referred to as "hush" songs -- as well as a couple of favorites from Porgy and Bess and some classic selections from the spiritual canon, including "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and "This Little Light of Mine."
But love isn't the only message you'll hear at Chapel of the Chimes this Sunday. Several pieces interpolate the African-American literary tradition, with lyrics drawn from works by Toni Morrison and Langston Hughes, matched with music from André Previn, Margaret Bonds, and Robert Owens. And featured soprano Angela Dean-Baham will voice "Songs of Love and Justice," with lyrics excerpted from the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The program was consciously chosen to be empowering, although stopping short of what Dean-Baham calls "black nationalism," but rather engendering what she calls "a liberated black community that is uplifted." Social progressiveness, she explains, "is not typically associated with opera." By the same token, opera isn't often associated with the community, but has become the province of the wealthy elite. Yet the Oakland Lyric Opera, with whom Dean-Baham has worked with often in the past, "is very committed to promoting and featuring local artists," she says. Instead of relying on big-name stars to fill seats, they're betting people will come out to hear native talent. It's all part, she adds, of their goal of "making opera accessible" to everyday people. Info: OaklandLyricOpera.org
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