Saturday, 26 March 2022

  • Location: University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Symposium: Weatherspoon Art Museum Auditorium (10am–5pm)
    Concurrent exhibition of the art of Lorraine O’Grady
  • Concert: Tew Recital Hall, School of Music (7:30–9:30)

Keynote SpeakerAndre portrait

Naomi André
Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies, Department of African-American Studies
University of Michigan
Seattle Opera Scholar in Residence

Opera and musical theater have a lengthy history as vehicles for the expression of political ideologies, national identities, and the dynamics of race, class, and gender. The Black American composer H. Lawrence Freeman (1869–1954) regarded opera as uniquely suited to tell the stories of the African diasporic experience. Black composers, librettists, and performers have embraced opera despite its roots in whiteness and colonialism.

Yet American operatic institutions have resisted embracing them back: in the United States, Black opera composers like Freeman, Scott Joplin (1868–1917), and William Grant Still (1895–1978) found the obstacles to staging their operas nearly insurmountable, in spite of their otherwise successful compositional careers. Similarly, the opera of Cuban American composer Tania León (b. 1943) is performed in Europe, but rarely in the U.S. Black singers have fared little better, often denied entry into the opera house in all but a few, racialized roles.

This symposium addresses the topic of Black Opera in its most capacious sense, with research papers on the composition, production, performance, history, and criticism of Black opera and the experiences of Black practitioners (composers, librettists, producers, performers, etc.) in the field of opera. We also celebrate and bring attention to Black opera composers through performances of their work.

Program Overview

10:00 amSession 1: Figures in the Shadow Culture
11:50 amFeatured speaker:
Paula Marie Seniors, “Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha, A Soul Evening: The 1972 World Premiere, Its Orchestrator, T.J. Anderson, and Its Aftermath”
12:40Lunch & time to view the exhibition Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And
No food or drink in the auditorium or galleries!
1:45Session 2: Technologies of Black Opera
2:50Session 3: Composers and Traditions
4:00-5:00Keynote Presentation
Naomi André, “Writing Opera, Singing Blackness”
5:15Reception at Oden Brewing Company (light hor d’oeurves and no-host bar)
Dinner ad libitumFood trucks at Oden Brewing Company; restaurants on Tate St. (See handout)
7:30Recital of Arias and Excerpts from Operas by Black Composers
Tew Recital Hall, School of Music, 100 McIver St.


View Program Booklet



Contact the symposium organizers:

Dr. Elizabeth L. Keathley
School of Music, UNCG

Dr. Kristen Turner
NC State University


  • School of Music, College of Visual and Performing Arts, UNCG
  • College of Visual and Performing Arts Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
  • Weatherspoon Art Museum at UNCG
  • Office of Research and Engagement, UNCG
  • African American and African Diaspora Studies Program, UNCG
  • Oden Brewing Company
  • Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, UNCG
  • Lloyd International Honors College, UNCG

There will be no fee to participate in or to attend the symposium and concert, but we will ask participants to register.