Sunday, November 2, 2008

Denyce Graves is Outstanding as Margaret Garner

Last night I attended the opening of "Margaret Garner" an Opera at Chicago's Auditorium Theater at Roosevelt University. It was awesome in a historical kinda way. What I thought was great was the diversity of the audience. This is a great time in Chicago--still one of the most segregated places in the United States. It is important that the history of slavery in the United States stop being treated like a four-letter word. We need to talk about it. We all need to learn about it and then the healing can begin--truly.
I highly encourage everyone to attend this performance because it is an excellenet production--complete with sir-titles for those of us who don't speak opera.

The Story--
The opera begins in darkness. A group of slaves, begging for deliverance from their suffering, gradually becomes visible.
The scene shifts to an auction being held in Kentucky in 1856. In the crowd is Edward Gaines, a native of the region but absent for twenty years. When Maplewood Plantation is brought to the block, he interrupts the proceedings, asserting that it cannot be sold as it belonged to his deceased brother. Gaines is dismayed to learn that the townsfolk don’t remember him, but no one disputes his claim, so he acquires Maplewood. As Gaines signs ownership papers, he is captivated by the singing of Margaret Garner, one of the slaves. He nostalgically recalls his childhood, and promises himself that this time the townsfolk will not forget him.
The slaves return from another day’s toil in the fields. Cilla, the mother of Margaret's husband, Robert, joins the couple for supper; their spirits are light-hearted until Casey, Maplewood's foreman, arrives with shocking news. Robert is being sent away that night to another plantation, but Margaret is to remain at Maplewood — where she will work, at the Master's request, in the main house.
Gaines hosts a lavish reception to celebrate his daughter Caroline's marriage. An argument erupts between Edward and his new son-in-law, George, about the nature of love; to break the tension, the newlyweds begin a waltz. After the dance, Caroline asks Margaret, now the house servant, for her views on love. The guests are outraged to hear her solicit a slave's opinion, and leave abruptly. Offended, Gaines lashes out at Caroline. Later, Gaines lingers, unseen, to watch Margaret clean the parlor. He accosts her, forcibly dragging her away.

Anticipating a visit from Robert, Margaret goes to Cilla's cabin. She becomes agitated when she finds her packing and the children missing, until Cilla discloses that Robert plans an escape attempt that evening. Margaret is overwhelmed when he arrives and confirms the news, but disconcerted that Cilla refuses to join them. Casey suddenly storms into the cabin; a struggle ensues which ends with Robert strangling Casey to death.
Robert and Margaret escape from Maplewood, and are living in an underground shed in Ohio. Robert asserts that freedom and dignity are nearly theirs. But Gaines suddenly arrives to claim his property, and captures Robert. Margaret attempts to burn Gaines with fiery coals, and witnesses his men lynching Robert. Enraged, she murders her children so they will be spared slavery's horrors.
Darkness again envelops the stage briefly. With defiant grandeur, Margaret then embraces her life's circumstances.
Gaines transports Margaret back to Kentucky to stand trial for the “theft and destruction” of the children, considered his property. Caroline protests that Margaret should properly be charged with murder, for the children were human beings. The judges sentence Margaret to be executed for theft. When Caroline begs her father to seek clemency, Gaines realizes he must choose between the love of his radical daughter and a traditional way of life.
Great sorrow fills the air as the townsfolk await Margaret's execution. At dawn, she is led to the scaffold. Gaines runs in, waving a document — the judges have granted Margaret clemency! On the gallows, Margaret expresses her desire to live peacefully in a just world, and then seizes “freedom” by hanging herself. Edward realizes that peace never will be his. Although he made the "right" choice — to fight for Margaret's freedom — he did it for the wrong reason: he wanted to win his daughter's respect. The onlookers proclaim a need for repentance, and pray that Margaret's final journey home is a peaceful one.
— Mary Lou Humphrey

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