Clare Coss

Introductory Video
Mamie Till's Lament

Listen to Emmett Till Scenes 3 and 4

"This is a project that gives a unique perspective of a very important event in this time in history. A really fine piece of work has been written, and the opportunity to do it again and to hear it again is, for me, something good."

Danny Glover, played Uncle Mose Wright in two readings of the play Emmett, Down In My Heart, Judson Church and Culture Project,NYC; Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY.

"The Emmett Till opera - a beautiful powerful telling of the murder of 14-year old Emmett Till in 1955. Predicting big things for this production, written and performed exquisitely."

Carol Jenkins, Emmy-award journalist, host of Black America"

"The Emmett Till opera's potential for emotional stupefaction strikes me as exceedingly rare. It can be unique in the American opera repertoire- an interracial Gothic with a black protagonist, the whole experience evocative of Boris Godunov."

David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize Author, W.E.B. Du Bois I & II

"The Emmett Till score was very good; every singer was impressive; and it begged for a stage production with orchestra. You couldn't experience the event and not pray for it to be fully realized."

John Morning, Board of Directors, Lincoln Center; Henry Street Settlement; International Print Center, NY, Founding Chair

The Emmett Till opera is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization that receives individual donations and grant funds for Watkins and Coss's Emmett Till opera.

For more information and to donate contact Clare

Mary Watkins
Mary Watkins

Comments on
Mary Watkins
Dark River

Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story, libretto and score by Mary Watkins: "lucidly propels and embellishes the action – The score is fluid, constantly shifting with rhythmic and harmonic changes - a low, dark, insistent sound, driven by strings and percussion, alternating with more lyrical moments, brightened by woodwinds. Stylistically a successful amalgam of modern compositional modes with jazz orchestration and gospel themes, shifting in and out, kaleidoscopically, with the action’s dialogue, arias, and chorus."

Berkeley Daily Planet

"I love working with contemporary artists like Mary D. Watkins who are creating their own musical styles. Dark River is classical music infused with elements of jazz, gospel, and blues. It is a wonderful musical challenge for me and the performers."

Ng Tian Hui, Music Director of the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra

"In writing this opera [Dark River], Mary D. Watkins has gloriously celebrated the life and legacy of a monumental figure from the Civil Rights era…there aren’t many operas based on African-American heroines or heroes…There are touches of gospel, touches of blues, avant garde rhythms and glorious, glorious choral work. She creates chords that wake you up!"

Darryl Jones, Director, Dark River, Oakland and Mt. Holyoke productions

To listen to selections from Dark River, go to (Click on Building Community, then Fannie Lou Hamer Opera)


Emmett Till, The Opera

A new opera, Emmett Till, by composer Mary Watkins and librettist Clare Coss will premiere in a concert production Spring, 2021 at John Jay College Gerald W Lynch Theater, NYC. It will be presented by Coss and Watkins in association with John Jay College; Opera Noire of New York, Robert Mack General Manager; and the Harlem Chamber Players, Liz Player Director. Tania Leon will conduct. Damien Sneed will serve as Choral Master.

Inspired by Clare Coss’ prize-winning play Emmett, Down in My Heart, African-American composer Mary Watkins’ vivid score brings new insight to the 1955 murder of black teen-ager Emmett Till which sparked the civil rights movement and generated activism for racial justice. Rosa Parks said she was thinking of Emmett Till when she refused to move to the back of the Montgomery, Alabama bus.

A splendid cast, selected by Robert Anthony Mack, General Manager of Opera Noire of New York, has worked with the project through three years of development including workshops and Sing-Throughs.

Composer Mary Watkins Emmett Till score is set to Coss' libretto. Watkins' bold prismatic music blazes with power, heals with outrage and melodies of love and compassion. Woven through are harmonies that evoke violence, faith, and the complexities of human experience. Watkins and Coss seek to pay respect to the greatness of ordinary people who stood up, suffered, and continued to struggle to bring about change in this country.

Emmet Till and Mamie Till Mobley
Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley

Emmett Till Opera
Mary Watkins Composer
Clare Coss Librettist

Fourteen year old African-American Emmett Till from Chicago was tortured and lynched in 1955 for allegedly wolf-whistling at a white woman in the Mississippi Delta. His mother demanded an open casket, a decision that changed history. The libretto weaves the tragedy of Emmett Till with his mother Mamie Till’s transformation from private to activist citizen, his Uncle Mose’s brave decision to take the stand and identify the murderers, and white teacher Roanne Taylor's confrontation with denial, silence and responsibility. Mamie Till's lament, "My Son, My Child," is the heart of the opera. The closing scene takes place in the packed dangerous armed Sumner, Mississippi courtroom. The Jury finds the two murderers: Not Guilty.

Mid August to mid September 1955
The scenes flow from Chicago to the Mississippi Delta, back and forth across time.
On each side of the stage a row of plain wooden chairs face into the center: the black church, the white church, and the place of witness.
A rectangular wooden table with two plain chairs is near stage center.
The unfolding story plays out on a simple set, amplified by the lighting design.

CHARACTERS/VOICES:  (In order of appearance)

MAMIE TILL, Mother of Emmett- Mezzo-soprano
A thirty-three year old African-American woman

EMMETT TILL, nicknamed "BO"- Tenor
A fourteen year old African-American boy from Chicago

ROANNE TAYLOR, Schoolteacher- Mezzo-Soprano
A white woman in her forties

CAROLYN BRYANT, wife of Roy Bryant- Soprano
A twenty-one year old white woman

ROY BRYANT, husband of Carolyn Bryant- Baritone
A thirty-four year old white man

UNCLE MOSE, Reverend Mose Wright, known as "Preacher"- Bartitone   A sixty-four year old African-American man

MAURICE WRIGHT, Son of Aunt Lizzy and Uncle Mose- Baritone
A sixteen year old African-American boy

AUNT LIZZY, Elizabeth Wright, Rev. Wright's wife-  Contralto
A fifty-five year old African American woman


The Emmett Till Opera Sing-Through cast, March 2018

Clare Coss and Mary Watkins
Charles Carter, Robert Mack, Amanda Rose Austin, Ravon Middlebrooks, Daveda Juleen, Justin Austin, Lucia Bradford, , Justin Ryan, Abigail Wright, Terry Cook, Karmesha Peake, Jeryl Cunningham, pianist Richard Cordova.