New gospel-jazz opera 'A Gathering of Sons' timely, on a repeated cycle
A new Pittsburgh-produced gospel-jazz opera addresses an important social issue that is timely, but not new, says Jonathan Eaton, artistic director of Pittsburgh Festival Opera.
“A Gathering of Sons” focuses on a black family whose son is unjustly shot by a white police officer, and the healing that can come from such a tragedy. Eaton says racial conflict is a problem that has been “of real importance to us in America — and in this city — for several years.”
In that sense, he says, “this opera is timely, on a repeated cycle.”
The original production, commissioned by Pittsburgh Festival Opera as part of its Music That Matters series, was composed by Dwayne Fulton, minister of music and fine arts at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church in East Liberty, with libretto by Pittsburgh poet and playwright Dr. Tameka Cage Conley and directed by Mark Clayton Southers, founder of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.
For Fulton, who conducts his church's renowned gospel choir and has written short opera works, creating the music for his first full-length opera has been the highlight of his career, a challenging project that took him a year to complete.
TV premiere July 1
The regional television premiere of “A Gathering of Sons” is scheduled for 8 p.m. July 1 on WQED-TV Pittsburgh. It is hoped the work eventually is seen by a PBS national audience.
Prior to the broadcast, Pittsburgh Festival Opera invites the public to attend a free screening of a filmed performance of the work at 7 p.m. June 26 at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium of the Kaufmann Center in the city's Hill District. Reservations are requested.
Fulton says music can be a powerful form of advocacy.
“So many people believe change can only come through protests or violence,” he says, “but one of the greatest ways of seeing an issue on a larger scale is through the arts. I believe that music is the only medium that can enter a person's conscience or soul without their permission.”
The opera premiered in June 2017 at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church and toured to a number of Pittsburgh venues, where Eaton says one audience member was so moved by the piece that an offer was made to anonymously finance production of a film recording of it for others to experience.
A unique aspect of the work, he says, is that its story is a journey seen through the lives of the young man, the police officer, parents of a newborn child and spirits that watch over the world.
In the end, the opera is not only a story of one person that becomes a victim, according to the composer, but rather “the victimization of all of us as human beings and humanity, and how we treat each other.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.