Chicago Opera Theater FREEDOM RIDE Preview – Inside Look

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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2020 - 7:30 PM
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2020 - 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2020 - 3:00 PM

The Studebaker Theater
410 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60605

Chicago Opera Theater FREEDOM RIDE PREVIEW
Director Tazewell Thompson (left) speaks with conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya and COT enthusiasts at the FREEDOM RIDE preview held at the Newberry Library
Chicago Opera Theater FREEDOM RIDE PREVIEW
Tenor Tyrone Chambers
Visitors to Atlanta's CENTER FOR CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS listen to racial and other taunts through their headset, while challenged not to move, in a re-enactment of the type training Freedom Riders received

“How do you deal with the impact of this work on your body and emotions?”

That was the last audience question (paraphrased), that capped the preview performances and director-conductor conversation about Chicago Opera Theater’s FREEDOM RIDE.

Tenor Tyrone Chambers, who plays Russell Davenport in this production stood from the audience seats to answer. He said, (paraphrasing)—“Especially in the workshop scenes where we re-enact the Freedom Riders’ training— we have to do a lot of unpacking of those feelings. Even now in 2020, we are still White and Black and having our separate experiences. The workshops put us exactly in the place where there is discomfort about race. People who you know, and like and work with, just don’t know about it the same way you do. But you have to go there, the way James Farmer and SNCC did. It’s real…. There’s so much beauty in Dan Shore’s music, it gets you through it.”

That said, one could imagine from the dialogue that preceded this audience exchange, that Director Tazewell Thompson may have evolved a layer of protection on his soul to get him through the more-than-full-monty preparations he recounts to ready FREEDOM RIDE for its upcoming world premiere.   This included countless hours scouring archival black and white photographs to absorb the look of the times—something he has taken great pains to ensure we will feel in set and costumes. Thompson spoke with empathy sharing tales of how the Freedom Riders were locked in a burning bus, only to be bludgeoned by a lynching-style mob, as the police looked on. He shared how Jewish White Freedom Riders were special targets – the ultimate “N-word lovers”. And with a mixture of sadness and quiet exasperation, he noted how timely the topic still is today, in the wake of Charlottesville, and skyrocketing hate crime statistics.

Chicago Opera Theater Leads With the Music

As in any Chicago Opera Theater preview, it was the singers who were the ultimate teasers. Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya opened the evening by sharing that she always likes to let the music pave the way. Here we heard Cornelius Johnson, as Rev. Mitchell, summon us, rally and soothe us, as if we were in the church being briefed for the struggle to come. We then heard an intriguing duet as a soprano pines about trying to secure the heart of Clayton Thomas, played by Robert Sims. This duet intrigued, both musically and with libretto alluding to some unseen reason why Clayton didn’t cave in to her invitation.

A story of passions—personal and political--- in just 80 minutes, and with many orders of magnitude more hours of preparation to make this world premiere happen!!!—this promises to be an event of opera history. At the time of this preview event, the first night’s performance was already sold out. Don’t delay.

For tickets and more information, visit the Chicago Opera Theater website or call 312 704 8414.





For full price tickets and information, go to Chicago Opera Theater website or call (312) 704-8414


Photos by Peter Kachergis; promotional poster image courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater

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