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Folk singer Rhiannon Giddens makes her debut as an opera composer at the Spoleto Festival.

The American singer Rhiannon Giddens (Greensboro, North Carolina, 1977) – winner in 2011 of the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album for Genuine Negro Jig, released with her group Carolina Chocolate Drops, and in 2022, now solo, of the Grammy for Best Folk Album for They’re Calling Me Home – graduated in 2000 from the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, where she studied opera singing. However, her experience in that field was subsequently limited to singing occasional opera arias and, in January of this year, participating in a Greensboro Opera production of George Gershwin’s folk opera Porgy and Bess.

And he had never explored the realm of operatic composition until the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina (the American offshoot born in 1977 of the original Spoleto Festival in Italy, known as the Festival dei Due Mondi) commissioned her in 2017 to compose an opera for the 2020 edition, based on the life and autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a scholarly Islamic writer (1770-1864), born in what is now Senegal, who was kidnapped at the age of 37 and taken as a slave to North Carolina in the United States, where he died at the age of 93, a year before slavery was abolished.

The pandemic derailed the originally planned premiere and it has been delayed for two years until, finally, this Friday, 27 May, on the opening day of the festival, the world premiere of Omar, Giddens’ first opera, composed in collaboration with Michael Abels, more knowledgeable in the world of orchestration, will take place. Giddens herself is the author of the opera’s libretto, as well as being listed as the main composer, with the collaboration of Michael Abels, known for being the author of the soundtracks of the horror films directed by Jordan Peele Get Out (2017) and Us (2019).

Following the opening of the festival, the opera will be performed again at the Sottile Theatre at the Charleston Public University on 30 May and 2, 5, 8 and 12 June, the latter day producing the closing performance of this edition of the Spoleto Festival of Performing Arts, the first under the direction of its new general director, Mena Mark Hanna. Later in the year, Omar will be performed from 22 October to 13 November at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and in a year’s time in the Boston Lyric Opera’s opera season.

© Photograph by Ebru Yildiz downloaded from the Rhiannon Giddens website.