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Omar Omar

Composed by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels

Conducted by Kazem Abdullah

October 22 – November 13, 2022

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

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ABOUT OMARIn 1807, a 37-year-old scholar living in West Africa was captured and forced aboard a ship bound for Charleston, South Carolina. Omar Ibn Said's life and Muslim faith are remembered and retold in this inspirational West Coast premiere inspired by his remarkable 1831 autobiography (the only known surviving American slavery narrative written in Arabic).

Set in the shifting darkness of memory and imagination, Omar follows his compelling journey from a peaceful life in his homeland to enslavement in a violent, foreign world. Reflecting on his life journey, he's haunted by memories of his family and the people he encounters along the way. Through it all, he somehow remains true to himself and his faith, against all odds. The luminous score—composed by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels—incorporates distinctive West African traditions with traditional opera instrumentation.

Tenor Jamez McCorkle makes his company debut in the title role, with bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch in a double role as two very different enslavers. Norman Garrett makes his company debut as Omar's brother, with Barry Banks as the auctioneer and Jacqueline Echols as Julie, an enslaved woman who gives Omar the key to a better life.

Learn more about the creative process of Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels in this Los Angeles Times article.

Sung in English with English subtitles.

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Get a sneak peek of Omar on CBS Sunday Morning
Dive into the music and history of Omar in this interview with Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels about how their opera tells a largely-forgotten story.

"Triumphant... Divine... Omar lives again, thanks to the unconquerable power of his words, now borne aloft by the music of history."

The Los Angeles Times

Listen to Rhiannon Giddens perform "Julie's Aria" from Omar below:


Jamez McCorkle
Fatima, Omar's Mother
Amanda Lynn Bottoms
Johnson / Owen
Daniel Okulitch
Jacqueline Echols
Auctioneer / Taylor
Barry Banks
Eliza, Owen's Daughter
Deepa Johnny
Katie Ellen
Briana Hunter
Abdul, Omar's Brother
Norman Garrett
Alan Williams
Ashley Faatoalia
Cedric Berry
Patrick Blackwell
Principal Dancer
Jermaine McGhee

Creative Team

Rhiannon Giddens
Michael Abels
Kazem Abdullah
Kaneza Schaal
Production Designer
Christopher Myers
Amy Rubin
April M. Hickman
Micheline Russell-Brown
Pablo Santiago
Joshua Higgason
Chorus Director
Jeremy Frank
Kiara Benn
Associate Choreographer
Yusuf Nasir

Read the synopsis

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Act One 
Scene One: 1806, Futa Toro (a region of West Africa now part of Senegal) 
in his peaceful village, Omar Ibn Said chants verses from the Quran. Omar’s mother Fatima, a spiritual matriarch of the village, leads a prayer to Allah, asking for guidance and affirming their allegiance. Worried that his village will fall prey to the slavers who have pillaged the region, Omar's brother Abdul has been negotiating with them for the safety of his people. Omar expresses his confidence that Allah has a plan for him, but Fatima cautions him that the plan might not be what he anticipates. 

Abdul discovers that he has been deceived and he warns his family to flee the coming raiders. But it is too late. Warriors overrun the compound and begin taking people prisoner. Omar and his mother are separated in the chaos; she is killed and he is dragged away.  

Scene Two: The Middle Passage 
In a scene of immense human suffering, Omar is shackled closely together with other prisoners in the cramped cargo hold of a slave ship. The desperate prisoners, each of them with their own individual life stories, pray to survive their horrendous ordeal.  

Scene Three: The Charleston Slave Market 
The enslaved woman Julie has been kidnapped and brought to the Charleston slave market for sale. She plans to escape her kidnapper and return to the Owen plantation in Fayetteville, which seems like a better option than the uncertain future that awaits her at the market. Julie recognizes that Omar is newly arrived and doesn’t comprehend what is about to happen to him. She tries to explain to Omar (who cannot understand her words) that if he should ever manage to run away, he should try to make it to Fayetteville. 

The slave auction begins. Omar watches as a family is brought up for sale. The father, Abe, pleads to be allowed to remain together, but the parents are forcibly split from their young son and sold separately. When Omar is led to the podium, the auctioneer flings his cap into the crowd, and Julie picks it up. In his anguish, Omar sees the spirit of his mother, who signals to him that Julie has managed to get free of her bonds. He creates a distraction so that Julie can escape unnoticed. Omar is sold to Johnson, a plantation owner. 

Scene Four: Johnson’s plantation 
Enslaved workers sing a work song as they labor at their tasks. They comment that Omar, newly brought there, is keeping to himself. Johnson shouts at one of the men and strikes him. He then turns his wrath on Omar, asserting his authority and sending him to pick cotton in the fields. 

Scene Five: Johnson’s plantation, five months later 
As Omar sleeps, the spirit of Omar’s mother watches over him. Johnson’s voice is heard, furiously calling for Omar, and she urges her son to run away. Omar flees his wretched life on the Johnson plantation and heads in search of Fayetteville. 

Act Two 
Scene One: Fayetteville County Jail 
Omar has escaped but is eventually captured as a runaway slave. He prays and writes Quranic verses in Arabic on the walls of his jail cell. This catches the attention of the townspeople, who wonder where he came from. The plantation owner Owen is urged by his daughter Eliza to buy Omar, who has by now learned to speak English. Owen questions Omar about his background, and their discussion turns to matters of spirituality. The devout Owen sees an opportunity to convert Omar to Christianity and takes Omar to his plantation. 

Scene Two: Owen’s plantation 
After the day’s labors, the enslaved workers are beginning to wind down. One of them, Katie Ellen, is surprised that Julie has found her way back to the plantation instead of escaping elsewhere. Finally done with work, the enslaved men and women sing and dance. Owen and his friend Taylor, a visitor from the north, arrive with Omar and introduce him to the other enslaved workers. They welcome Omar, while reminding him that all of the enslaved on the plantation must be wary. Omar prays, wondering what will happen to him. Julie is impressed that Omar has followed her advice. She tells him that her father used to wear a cap like Omar’s. When she was a child, she recounts, her father was sold and taken away. Her memories are all she has left of him. She has kept Omar’s cap all this time because it reminded her of her father, and she gives it back to Omar. 

Scene Three: Owen’s study 
Owen and Taylor are excited about the prospect of converting Omar to their faith, which will give Owen a great deal of prestige in his community. Owen gives Omar a Christian Bible written in Arabic and asks him to write down the opening line of Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd,” in that language. Omar pretends to do so, while actually writing the words “I want to go home.” 

Scene Four: Owen’s plantation
As Omar reads his new Bible under a tree, he asks Allah the meaning of his life journey. He recites and reinterprets Psalm 23 from the point of view of an enslaved Muslim. The scene ends with a choral amen, as Omar intones an Islamic prayer. 

Scene Five: Owen’s plantation (finale)
Julie is fascinated that Omar can read and write. She encourages him to write a book. The spirit of Fatima joins Julie in urging Omar to write about his experiences and his faith. As he finds his voice, Omar calls on people of the Carolinas and of America to honor the tenets of their faith. The company joins Omar in praising the omnipresence of Allah in all that has been and in all that will be. 


West Coast premiere

Sung in English with English subtitles.

The estimated running time is two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission.

Click here to read the digital program.

Pre-Show Talk - one hour before the performance
Learn more about the opera and its two composers with Dr. Tiffany Kuo, professor of music at Mount San Antonio College and an LA Opera Connects affiliated scholar. Pre-show talks are complimentary for all ticket holders and held on the second floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Presented by

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Production made possible with generous support from The Bernard and Lenore Greenberg Opera Fund

LA Opera’s 2022/23 season is generously underwritten by GRoW @ Annenberg 

LA Opera Orchestra generously underwritten by Terri and Jerry Kohl

Omar is co-produced by Spoleto Festival USA and Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and co-commissioned by LA Opera, Spoleto Festival USA, Carolina Performing Arts, Boston Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Omar is inspired by Dr. Ala Alryyes's translation of Omar Ibn Said's autobiography in his book A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn Said.

Published by and presented with the permission of Subito Music Corporation

Artwork for Omar
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