Syracuse, NY, September 30, 2021 – The Society for New Music presents the Premiere of the commissioned Libba Cotten Opera: Here this Day in its full production with chamber ensemble as part of the 50th Season Discovering Gold. The performance will take place on October 17 at 3 pm at Tucker Baptist Church, 515 Oakwood Ave., Syracuse, a block from Libba’s Grove. The opera is the brainchild of SNM board member Francis Parks and tells the story of the brilliant but humble left-handed singer/songwriter Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, who played the guitar and banjo upside down and backwards.
Libba grew up in the segregated South, worked as a domestic at age 9 to earn money to buy her own guitar, and at age 11 she wrote the song Freight Train, which has been covered and recorded by many famous folk and rock musicians, most recently Rhiannon Giddens. The City of Syracuse honored Libba Cotten in 1983, naming her the first Living Treasure and establishing Libba Cotten Grove Park. In 2012 the city in cooperation with Syracuse University erected a Sharon BuMann statue of Libba in the park to honor her legacy, a block from MLK School and Tucker Baptist Church.
The libretto’s episodic structure moves backwards in time, honoring the way Libba played her guitar backwards. Singers include bass-baritone Gregory Sheppard (Frank Cotton), sopranos Jessica Montgomery (young adult Libba) & Dani Mitchell (Libba’s mother), mezzo Danan Tsan (Ruth Crawford Seeger), soprano Noa DeRosa Anderson (young Libba), and baritone Steven Stull (Pete Seeger). Jacque Tara Washington sings the role of old Libba. Victoria King is the stage director, and Heather Buchman, conductor.
Librettist Kyle Bass, a natice of Central New York, is a two-time recipient of the NY Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (fiction in 1998 and playwriting in 2010), a finalist for the Princess Grace Playwriting Award, and Pushcart Prize nominee. As a dramaturg, Kyle worked with acclaimed visual artist Carrie Mae Weems on “Grace Notes: Reflections for Now,” which premiered at the 2016 Spoleto Festival USA, and then was produced at Yale Rep and Kennedy Center. Kyle’s “Possessing Harriet” was produced by Syracuse Stage and Franklin Stage Company, and others.
From 2005-2018, Kyle taught playwriting in Syracuse University’s Drama Dept. and theatre courses in the African American Studies Dept. Kyle previously served as the Burke Endowed Chair for Regional Studies for 2018-19 in Colgate’s Dept. of Theater, and is currently on the Colgate faculty. Kyle holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from Goddard College.
The music of composer Mark Olivieri, Professor at Hobart-William Smith Colleges, is performed throughout the U.S. and abroad in such venues as Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Sibelius Academy in Finland, Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, Glinka Concert Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland. Olivieri’s compositions are inspired as much by Black Sabbath and Thelonius Monk as by traditional concert music. Olivieri earned degrees from Heidelberg College, Ithaca College, and a Ph.D from the Univ. at Buffalo. This is his third commission from the Society for New Music.
Based in Syracuse, NY, the Society for New Music commissions, performs, and records new works by regional composers, catalyzes artistic connections across Central NY, and expands the audience for new music.