Listen to Emmett Till Scenes 3 and 4
"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 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
Dark River opera:
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 www.WomenArts.org (Click on Building Community, then Fannie Lou Hamer Opera)
A new opera, Emmett Till, set by composer Mary Watkins to libretto by playwright Clare Coss, is in development with Gregory Hopkins, Artistic Director, Harlem Lyric Theater & Opera Co. The opera evolved from Coss' prize-winning play, Emmett, Down in My Heart, a 2008 Ford Foundation grant recipient.
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 lynched in 1955 for allegedly wolf-whistling at a white woman in the Mississippi Delta. His mother’s decision to have an open casket helped to ignite the civil rights movement. 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 indifference, silence and responsibility. In the packed dangerous Sumner, Mississippi courtroom, the Jury finds the two murderers not guilty. Interviewed by Look Magazine, protected by double jeopardy laws, killer Roy Bryant boasts proudly of their cold blooded slaughter, to preserve "their way of life." The score and libretto illuminate how each character negotiates the struggle for identity and humanity in our embattled world. The funeral is postponed for three days as thousands file by Emmett Till's open coffin to bear witness. Uncle Mose presides over the memorial for his nephew. Mamie Till and Everyone gather to sing a majestic hymn that attests to the power of hope and protest. “A new earth rises on this day.”
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
TWO CHURCH CHOIRS:
Clare Coss and Mary Watkins