The Santa Fe Opera is pleased to present the world premiere of This Little Light of Mine, a new opera about the life of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The one-act opera is composed by Chandler Carter with libretto by Diana Solomon-Glover. Under development since 2017, the piece is commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera and its Opera for All Voices (OFAV) consortium partners.
Writes composer Chandler Carter, “The music of This Little Light begins and ends with the voice of Fannie Lou herself. The sound of her singing civil rights anthems – “Woke Up This Morning,” “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” “Ain ‘t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” and “This Little Light of Mine,” – anchors all of my vocal writing, especially for chorus. But just as important is the sound of Mrs. Hamer’s powerful speaking voice, excerpts of which I incorporate into the score, telling her harrowing story of humiliation, torture and ultimate triumph.”
Conducted by Jeri Lynne Johnson and directed by Beth Greenberg, the talented cast includes contralto Nicole Joy Miller in the role of Fannie Lou Hamer, soprano Kearstin Piper Brown as Dorothy Jean Hamer, and soprano Heather Hill in the roles of June Johnson and SNCC Worker. Scenic Designer Lawrence E. Moten III recreates the time and space of 1964’s “Freedom Summer” with costumes by Brooke Stanton, lighting by Jason Lynch and immersive projections by Katherine Freer. An ensemble of singers from Albuquerque’s Gospel Choir Community serves as the chorus, led by Chorus Director Dr. Stevie DeJuan Springer.
Performances will be presented at The Lensic Performing Arts Center in downtown Santa Fe on October 28 and 29 at 7:00 pm and October 30 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are on sale now via The Lensic Box Office. The cost per person is $25 and seat assignments are first come, first served. More information can be found at This Little Light of Mine.
About This Little Light of Mine
This Little Light of Mine with music by Chandler Carter and words by Diana Solomon-Glover illuminates the efforts of Civil Rights hero, Fannie Lou Hamer, to secure voting rights for Black Mississippians. Centered around Hamer’s appeal to the 1964 Democratic National Convention Credentials Committee to replace Mississippi’s all-white delegation of “Dixiecrats” with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an interracial delegation she helped found, Hamer, daughter Dorothy Jean and fellow freedom fighter, June Johnson, tell the story of Hamer’s courageous battle to raise the status of Mississippi’s Black inhabitants to “first-class citizens.” Hamer’s personal sacrifices leading up to that moment – the violent harassment she and her family face, starvation, medical terrorism, loss of livelihood and the horrific beating she suffers at the hands of local police – imbue her with an unassailable moral authority and provide an explosive testimony that sends shockwaves throughout the nation and ages the course of American history.
About the Creative Team
Chandler Carter’s work focuses on historical stories that cross the boundaries of race and power. In addition to works for the stage, Carter has composed over 50 songs and numerous choral, chamber and orchestral pieces which have been performed internationally by distinguished recitalists, choirs and ensembles.
Diana Solomon-Glover’s career and talents have been showcased on the operatic stage, in concert, oratorio, recital, musical theater, cabaret and on radio and television across the United States, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and in Central America, and have long served humanitarian and social efforts. In 2001, Solomon-Glover created the role of Winnie Mandela in the premiere of Carter’s No Easy Walk to Freedom, an opera based upon the life of South African President, Nelson Mandela.
Beth Greenberg has more than 25 years of experience producing, directing and managing live, large-scale concert and theatrical productions in both indoor and outdoor venues. Greenberg is renowned for her work with the New York City Opera and has staged world premieres and traditional works for Opera Colorado, Fort Worth Opera and the Phenicia Voice Festival, among other US companies.
Heralded as one of today’s leading female conductors, Jeri Lynne Johnson first made history in 2005 as the first Black woman to win an international conducting prize when she was awarded the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship. She has broken barriers in Europe and the US as the first African American woman on the podium for many orchestras and has conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (UK) and Weimar Staatskapelle (Germany), among others. Maestra Johnson established her own orchestra in Philadelphia, the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, to serve as a model for the 21st-century American orchestra, combining artistic excellence with cultural diversity and innovative community engagement.
Scenic Designer Lawrence E. Moten III is a designer based in Brooklyn NY and works across the country. Most recently his work has been seen on Broadway with Chicken and Biscuits at Circle In The Square, and off-Broadway with the world premiere play Patience produced by Second Stage and STEW produced by Page 73. Lawrence is beginning his 6th year of teaching at Princeton University and recently started at Queens College as a faculty member for the 2022/2023 School year. He earned his BFA in Design from Ithaca College.
Costume Designer Brooke Stanton has worked in theatre, film and television. During her five years with George Lucas’ ILM, she built creatures for the Star Wars Special Edition Trilogy and The Phantom Menace. She has toured internationally and nationally designing for Peter Sellars. Other clients include Disney, Columbia Pictures, CBS, American Repertory Theater, American Conservatory Theater, Aspen Music Festival, Berkshire Opera Festival, Boston Symphony Youth Orchestra, Commonwealth Shakespeare, SF Shakespeare, New England Conservatory and Odyssey Opera.
Jason Lynch is a Chicago-based lighting designer for theater, dance, opera and other live performance art. He is honored to have his recent work on the Goodman Theatre’s real-time, online ‘Live’ series and an immersive 360° production of The Wild Party at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts featured in American Theater Magazine. He was also the recipient of the 2019 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award which recognizes emerging theatrical designers within the Chicago area.
Projections Designer Katherine Freer is a multimedia artist, filmmaker, organizer and educator whose artistic practice lives at the intersection of story, technology and civic engagement. Frequent collaborators include Ping Chong, Ty Defoe, Kamilah Forbes, Steve H. Broadnax III, Lux Haac, Porsche McGovern, Liza Jessie Peterson, Talvin Wilks and Tamilla Woodard. She is a proud member of Wingspace Theatrical Design and United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829; a core collaborator in All My Relations Collective; and Interim Head of Integrated Media Program at the University of Texas at Austin.
About the Cast
The role of Fannie Lou Hamer is created by powerhouse contralto Nicole Joy Mitchell, a proud native of Brooklyn, New York. She has sung with opera companies around the country and world and made her Metropolitan Opera debut as part of the ensemble in the GRAMMY-winning production of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. She returned to the Metropolitan Opera in their 2021/2022 season in several productions, including Terence Blanchard’s historic opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones. As a member of the ensemble for the 2022/2023 season, she will appear in several productions including Aida, Lohengrin, Dialogues des Carmélites and Terence Blanchard’s Champion in addition to several other works. Nicole also has experience in film and narration.
Soprano Kearstin Piper Brown sings the role of Dorothy Jean Hamer. Brown’s career has spanned opera and musical theater, including appearances with San Francisco Opera, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Opera Kazan, Skylight Music Theatre, Dayton Opera, Virginia Opera, Utah Festival Opera and the Belarusian State Philharmonic Orchestra. A native of Alexandria, Virginia, Brown is a graduate of both Spelman College and Northwestern University.
The roles of June Johnson and SNCC Worker are presented by soprano Heather Hill. Hill’s career encompasses appearances in opera, oratorio, musical theatre, television and film. She recently performed with the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera and the Broadway revival of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Other recent performances include the role of Ravine Marauder in the premiere of the new Musical Other World at the Delaware Playhouse; and the role of Angelica in Orlando: Hero of Love by GF Handel with Opera Internships in New York City.
About Opera for All Voices
Opera for All Voices (OFAV) is committed to co-commissioning and co-producing new operatic works for audiences of all ages that bear the same artistic integrity and depth of storytelling as the festival season. There is also a commitment to social impact and the representation of diverse voices through the development of these new and important works. OFAV was guided by a consortium of opera companies led by the Santa Fe Opera including Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Minnesota Opera, Opera Theater of Saint Louis, San Francisco Opera, Sarasota Opera and Seattle Opera – resulting in the commission of four new works, flexible in both scope and scale, which can be performed in a variety of venues. The teams behind the commissioned works were selected through an invitational process and adjudicated by a jury of twelve distinguished individuals in the field of opera.
Projects selected through the OFAV invitational are moving through the development process, each receiving workshops, the opportunity to premiere the opera at one of the partner companies, as well as the opportunity for subsequent performances at other partner companies. Commissions to date include Augusta Read Thomas and Leslie Dunton-Downer’s Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun (premiered October 2019), Laura Kaminsky and Kimberly Reed’s Hometown to the World (premiered December 2021) and David Hanlon and Stephanie Fleischmann’s The Pigeon Keeper. The Santa Fe Opera gratefully acknowledges the following development partners: Kentucky Opera, the American Spiritual Ensemble and Florida International University for This Little Light of Mine; and San Francisco Girls Chorus for The Pigeon Keeper.
Commissioning and development support for Opera for All Voices have been provided by the Melville Hankins Family Foundation, Principal Education Sponsor of the Santa Fe Opera; The Andrew W Mellon Foundation; and two OPERA America Innovation Grants generously funded by the Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation.
About The Santa Fe Opera
The Santa Fe Opera annually draws 85,000 people from New Mexico and around the globe. Nestled atop a mountain vista in northern New Mexico, the company’s iconic Crosby Theater is open on three sides, allowing visitors to enjoy performances complemented by the elements. Since 1957, the company has presented over 2,000 performances of 179 operas by 91 composers spanning five centuries of opera, creating a legacy of 45 American premieres and 18 world premieres.