Truth, An American Opera about Sojourner Truth

Theater, Drama
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Truth, An American Opera about Sojourner Truth
Photograph: Ricardo Nelson
Truth: An American Opera about Sojourner Truth

As a source for new American opera, slavery is a deep well. That grim and lingering chapter of history has inspired a slew of music-theater works, from Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha (1910) to Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison’s Margaret Garner (2005). Now Paula M. Kimper adds her voice to the mix with this 90-minute chamber piece about former slave and iconic abolitionist Sojourner Truth. (Judging from the program, five scenes were omitted for the Fringe foray.) Spanning decades of its subject's life, from plantation to lectern, the story is worthy—if handled too reverently. Talaya Delaney’s episodic libretto does little to complicate or broaden Truth’s status as a self-emancipated Great Woman of History. The result is a CliffsNotes sketch in desperate need of a frame or original point of view. Still, Kimper’s score is accessible: tonal and rich, blending gospel with Copland-like swoops of grandeur. A mini orchestra (woodwinds and strings augmented by African percussion) plays it with dash and verve. In the title role, the majestic Mari-Yan Pringle carries the show with grace and plenty of charisma, her velvety soprano finding notes of pain but also wryness in Truth’s journey. Baritone Jorell Williams has a light, mocking touch as Frederick Douglass and in other roles. There’s not much to say about Lori Holmes Clark and Linda McInerney’s stiff, minimal staging, except that Truth would benefit from bolder visuals and clearer dramatic focus. Or they should downsize it into a song cycle or oratorio; few makers of opera bother to make that distinction anymore.—David Cote

Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2013 New York International Fringe Festival.


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