Stanford Live will commission, develop, and premiere a contemporary but historically-informed reimagining of Scott Joplin’s early 20th century opera “Treemonisha.”
The work’s creative team, led by director Weyni Mengesha, librettist Leah Simone Bowen, and composers Jessie Montgomery and Jannina Norpoth, will bring to the work an entirely new libretto and an expanded musical language incorporating jazz, traditional and contemporary classical music, West African idioms, and of course, ragtime. Set during Reconstruction, Joplin’s story is extraordinarily progressive for its time, with the female protagonist elected leader of her community decades before women and most people of color could vote. Despite his fame, Joplin could not find backing for an opera by a black composer with an all-black cast of characters, and the full opera was never staged. In Treemonisha’s new story, a community has been split in the aftermath of slavery. One side remained on the plantations, endured slavery, and found solace in the church. The other side escaped, and from their forest hiding places, rekindled ancestral spiritual practices carried to the Americas from Africa. When Treemonisha is elected leader of the community, her task is to mend the torn fabric of her two communities. The project will honor Joplin’s vision and bring his neglected masterwork to light while creating a new work reborn for our times.