Baruch Performing Arts Center and Opera Omaha present dwb (driving while black) Opera Review — #BLM Chamber Opera

a half blown balloon seems to emit a swallowed duck call as it sales across the room exhaling 

…papers are rattled in the air

…and then a drum stick and cello bow freeze just shy of striking their respective drum or string, allowing our imagination to explode with the loud sound of a gun firing…

These are but some notes of the score cum sound effects from New Morse Code (Hannah Collins, cello; Michael Compitello, percussion) that animate dwb (driving while black), described by its Baruch Performing Arts Center host as a 50-minute sung monodrama. These two instrumentalists— the only ones in this production— are the constant backdrop to the voice of soprano and librettist Roberta Gumbel.

 

We first meet her voice singing without words, with a melody of moan that instantly immerses us in the tone of grief that never quite leaves the stage, even when the story carries us to happier moments of parents cherishing their new baby, a mother admiring the beauty of her child, a game of peek a boo, or sharing ice cream rewards for good grades.  There are more than a dozen scenes of such domesticity in this short opera, conveying both the family’s everyday and moments of up and down.

Yet, it is the seven bulletins intruding on the family’s life that tell the larger dwb story.   These are acidic headlines and racist bumps in the road robbing a Black mother of peace.  A congressman got pulled over by the police seven times because he was driving a too nice car? A twelve-year old mistakenly thrown into a paddy wagon in a case of mistaken identity? A young boy in a hoodie is killed by a deranged fear-struck White man? 

The only props and set are chairs that ever remain in the shadows, with the soprano sometimes moving into the light in front of them. These seats are the car interior that bottle the story’s arc—from the young mother who cannot tolerate the position of a car seat taking her toddler out of view, to the mother of the driving age son wondering if putting him behind the wheel is allowing his death sentence at the hands of the police.

Affect powered libretto in dwb (driving while black)

Those who like to follow a narrative logically from A-Z might find the story thread a bit thin at times.  Many though, like this writer, will likely find much to admire in how the libretto is aptly charged with affect and so seamlessly stitched to the unusual score (Composer: Susan Kander). You too might get pierced by the libretto’s early and repeating hook of a mother noting of her Black son—“..You are not who they think you are…”.   These words seem to reach from the roots of the narrative’s #BLM specificity, to the more universal human experience of being unseen known to all of us at some point, yet not with the life and death consequences of dwb.

Dwb (driving while black) is is a top pick recommendation for those especially interested in opera innovations and how this genre can be applied to adding to the cultural conversations of our time.  Opera lovers who resonate most with the likes of elephant parades across the stage and similar big budget spectacles should probably look elsewhere for entertainment.

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CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM:

Roberta Gumbel, librettist/soprano

Susan Kander, composer

Chip Miller, director

New Morse Code - Hannah Collins, cello and Michael Compitello, percussion

Videography:

Four/Ten Media

Audio:

Ryan Streber, Oktaven Studios

WHEN:

Thru November 1,9 PM ET

WHERE:

Streaming Online

TICKETS:

Pay-what-you-can

For more information and tickets visit the Baruch Performing Arts Center webpage for dwb (driving while black)

Images courtesy of Baruch Performing Arts Center

Watch this video previewing Picture This Post's OPERAS WE LOVE - roundup.

Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.

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