Coalition of arts organizations join together to present a celebration of Black art
(Los Angeles) March 15, 2021 — Beginning March 26, LA Opera, in collaboration with the African American Art Song Alliance, Aural Compass Projects, Black Opera Alliance, National Association of Negro Musicians and the Philadelphia Dance Company, presents the online premiere of Brown Sounds, a new Digital Short by French filmmaker Jérémy Adonis starring mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis.
Poetry, composition, song and dance come together in this work that celebrates the Black experience. Conceived by an all-Black creative team, the Digital Short was masterminded by executive producer and conceptual creator Bryce-Davis, whose LA Opera credits include recent productions of Eurydice and Roberto Devereux and the upcoming Il Trovatore. The music, created for her, is a ravishing setting by composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson of verses by Henry Dumas, one of the most significant poets of the civil rights era.
"Young Black children are often taught that their history begins with slavery," said Bryce-Davis. "Our purpose with this project is to portray a history that goes back to the beginning of time and stretches far into the untapped treasures of the future: a celebration of Black art, Black bodies, Black consciousness. I recited Dumas’ poem as a grad student, and when the time came for me to give my recital later that semester, I realized the words were still singing in my being. I asked fellow Manhattan School of Music student Ayanna Witter-Johnson if she could set the words to music and she graciously said yes. For this reincarnation of the project, we brought together an all-star Black creative team representing the vast experiences of the African diaspora, and a coalition of arts organizations, led by LA Opera, to help spread this message to the world."
The film opens on Bryce-Davis and dancer Lateef Williams thriving in a lush paradise representing the Garden of Eden. The pair are suddenly uprooted and driven to the unknown: the original sin of slavery. In the end, they dig their roots into the soil and stretch their limbs to the sun, finding new identities, new truths and new power. Designed and styled by Allan Virgo, the video was filmed on location in Belgium at the Meise Botanical Gardens in Brussels and at the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp. The pianist is Jeanne-Minette Cilliers.
Led by Bryce-Davis, five organizations—the African American Art Song Alliance, Aural Compass Projects, Black Opera Alliance, National Association of Negro Musicians and the Philadelphia Dance Company—representing all forms of art, as does Brown Sounds, have joined together in partnership with LA Opera to share Brown Sounds with audiences nationwide. It will be streamed on LA Opera's Facebook and YouTube channel starting at 11:00 a.m. P.D.T. For viewing details and additional information, LAOpera.org/BrownSounds.
Part of the company's On Now platform of online programming, Digital Shorts are newly commissioned films that team gifted composers, performers and visual artists. Digital Shorts are offered free of charge to all viewers.
Click here for the Brown Sounds press photo gallery.
Creators and Artists
Mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis made her first LA Opera appearances in 2020 productions of Eurydice and Roberto Devereux, and she introduced the song "Brown Sounds" to LA Opera audiences in a September 2020 Living Room Recital. She will return to Los Angeles later this year as Azucena in Il Trovatore. Her recent performances include Eboli in Don Carlo with Opera Vlaanderen, Leonor in La Favorite at the Teatro Massimo di Palermo, Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica, Verdi's Requiem with the Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall, Martinů’s Julietta with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Jérémy Adonis is a French filmmaker and photographer now based in Belgium. His short film Son of Icarus was screened in several festivals in Europe. He has directed numerous projects in the Belgian industry, from music videos, to live concerts, to promotional spots.
Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a London-born singer, songwriter and cellist. She participated in the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme and was an Emerging Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre. She has been commissioned to compose works for the London Symphony Orchestra, Gürzenich Orchester, Ligeti Quartet, Kronos Quartet and the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company.
Writer and poet Henry Dumas (1934-68) was described by the New York Times as "at his best...the most original Afro‐American poet of the sixties." Identified with the Black Power movement, he was also active in the civil rights movement. At the age of 33, he was shot and killed by a white policeman in a case of supposed mistaken identity. The facts surrounding his death have never been clear. Posthumous collections of his poetry include Play Ebony, Play Ivory (1974) and Knees of a Natural Man: The Selected Poetry of Henry Dumas (1989).
Jamaican-American designer Allan Virgo studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and has designed for such brands as Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, Guess, Michael Kors, Kenneth Cole and Macy’s. From 2010 through 2013, he introduced his spring/summer collections at Jamaica StyleWeek, before launching a self-titled outerwear brand based in New York.
American dancer Lateef Williams is a soloist at the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen (Royal Ballet of Flanders) in Belgium. He studied at the Academy of Dance and at the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center. Previously, he was a member of the Chilean National Ballet. He has also performed with the Ballet de l'Opéra National du Rhin in France and with the Kansas City Ballet.
South African pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers has collaborated for performances at venues including the Ravinia Festival, the Guggenheim Museum, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Her solo career includes performances at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series in Chicago. She is currently spearheading the new Collaborative Piano program at the Royal Conservatory Antwerp.
Founded in 1997, the African American Art Song Alliance serves as the home of interchange between performers and scholars interested in art song by African-American composers. The organization is focused on promoting and uplifting the contributions made by African Americans to art song; serving the needs of scholars, teachers and performers seeking information about African American art song; facilitating the sharing of information and repertoire between teachers, performers and scholars; encouraging performance and scholarship related to African-American art song; and supporting the presentation of the highest caliber of performance and scholarship.
Aural Compass Projects is a non-profit music organization founded in 2019 that is dedicated to performing new and less-performed works. ACP strives to foster and develop a solid moral compass that guides their work in advancing towards equality and better representation in the arts. ACP’s Founding Artistic Director, Michael Lewis says “we believe that following a strong code of ethics while cultivating a space for new music and music that has not had the opportunity of being fully appreciated is our duty as artistic ambassadors and it is incredibly important for the collective growth of our community and world.”
The Black Opera Alliance comprises over 800 Black artists and administrators and is steadily growing. The mission of the Black Opera Alliance is to empower Black classical artists and administrators by exposing systems of racial inequity and under-representation of the African diaspora in all facets of the industry and challenging institutions to implement drastic reform.
The National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., is this country’s oldest organization dedicated to the preservation, encouragement, and advocacy of all genres of the music of Black Americans. Within NANM, members lend their support and influence—educators and professional musicians share their musical knowledge, amateurs and enthusiasts grow in their musical enjoyment, and people of all ages come together to participate in one of the most powerful forces of spiritual and cultural development and the total human experience that is music.
Across the nation and around the world, The Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO!) is celebrated for its innovation, creativity and preservation of predominantly African-American traditions in dance. Founded in 1970, the company has a legacy of breaking barriers and building bridges across cultural divides, consistently performing for audiences of people from diverse communities.
About LA Opera On Now
The Digital Shorts series, which launched in December with The Three Moons of Lorca by composer Gabriela Lena Frank, is part of LA Opera's On Now platform of digital programming. LA Opera was the first major American opera company to create a weekly schedule of original new online programming to bring opera to audiences during the coronavirus crisis. As the company awaits its cue to return to the stage with world-class productions in theaters, it is offering a variety of online content including newly commissioned performances, live recitals, opera broadcasts and learning opportunities via its On Now digital offerings, which have accumulated over 800,000 views since its launch on March 17, 2020.
About LA Opera
Los Angeles is a city of enormous diversity and creativity, and LA Opera is dedicated to reflecting that vibrancy by redefining what opera can be with thrilling performances, thought-provoking productions and innovative programming. The communal and curative power of opera is needed now more than ever before, especially given the extraordinary challenges of the time. The company is grateful to its supporters for helping to ensure that it has the resources needed to get through this unprecedented period through the LA Opera Relief Fund. Those wanting to support LA Opera can go to LAOpera.org/donate
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