Clare Coss

Listen to Emmett Till Scenes 3 and 4

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

The piano/vocal score for Emmett Till, the opera, will soon be finished. We will keep you posted as this exciting project advances. 

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 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


Clare Coss and Mary Watkins
Clare Coss and Mary Watkins