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    Panthers stand backstage at a Free Huey Rally in DeFramery Park, Oakland. Cleve Brooks (at center, with arms folded) founded the San Quentin Prison chapter of the party. Oakland, 1968. Photo: Stephan Shames. Used by special permission

    Oakland Opera Premiers Scenes from
    Two New Operas, on June 15th and 17th
    The Panthers (Clark Suprynowicz and Lynne Morrow) and
    Dark River (Mary Watkins)

    The Oakland Opera Theater in cooperation with the Oakland East Bay Symphony, presents Great Moments in American History - Set to Music: premieres of fully staged scenes from two new operas, The Panthers (Clark Suprynowicz and Lynne Morrow) and Dark River (Mary Watkins), on June 15th and 17th, 2007. Acclaimed for its intimately-staged performances of modern 20th and 21st century operas, Oakland Opera Theater was lauded for its 2004 production of Philip Glass' Akhnaten, declared "One of the musical highlights of the year" by The San Francisco Chronicle. The Panthers is a new work about the Black Revolutionary movement in 1960's Oakland. The Oakland East Bay Symphony is developing the piece for its 2009 premiere at the Paramount Theater. Dark River , an opera set in Mississippi 1964, depicts The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Fannie Lou Hamer. Great Moments in American History - Set to Music will be directed by Michael Mohammed director of OOT's critically acclaimed production of X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, by Anthony Davis. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in June 2006, "This resourceful little company, determined to revitalize contemporary opera by any means necessary, scored yet another triumph over the weekend with a mesmerizing new production of Anthony Davis' X." Under the baton of OOT Musical Director Deirdre McClure, Great Moments in American History - Set to Music will be presented at the Oakland Metro Operahouse, 201 Broadway (one block from Jack London Square), Oakland. For tickets ($20 advance/$24 at the door) for more information or to purchase tickets call 510-763-1146 or visit www.oaklandopera.org


    Oakland Composer Mary Watkins' new opera, Dark River, uses the history of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) and the biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, to depict the Mississippi Freedom Movement of 1964. Ms. Hamer was a prominent 1960s civil rights organizer in Mississippi and the South, and an important symbol of the grass roots civil rights struggle/movement which became an important turning point for African Americans in US history. Fannie Lou Hamer is perhaps best known for the quote: "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." Ms Hamer's character portrays both the ugliness of the period and the resiliency of the human spirit. She is a sharecropper, illiterate, with little formal education; in many ways the product of a system engineered to exploit her. Her story is important, for various reasons, on both a local and national level. The opera will present a revealing portrait, not only of the titular character, but also the regional South, SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) and other activist movements, and the shaping effect that the summer of 1964 had on the history of our country. ? In 1962, when Hamer was 44 years old, SNCC volunteers came to her town and held a voter registration meeting. She was surprised to learn that African-Americans actually had a constitutional right to vote. When the SNCC members asked for volunteers to go to the courthouse to register to vote, Hamer was the first to raise her hand. This was a dangerous decision. She later reflected, "The only thing they could do to me was to kill me, and it seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember." When Hamer and others went to the courthouse, they were jailed and beaten by the police. Hamer's courageous act got her thrown off the plantation where she was a sharecropper. She also began to receive constant death threats and was even shot at. Still, Hamer would not be discouraged. She became a SNCC Field Secretary and traveled around the country speaking and registering people to vote. Hamer co- founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).

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    The Panthers is a new opera by composer Clark Suprynowicz and choral conductor Lynne Morrow, about the Black Revolutionary movement of the late 1960's. The Oakland East Bay Symphony is developing this work for its 2009 premiere at the Paramount Theater.

    J. Edgar Hoover declared in September of 1968 that destroying the Black Panther Party was his number one priority. Hoover vowed "...to make it clear to black youth that if they want to be revolutionaries, they will be dead revolutionaries." The FBI's COINTELPRO program was effective at accomplishing what J. Edgar Hoover set out to do: A series of assassinations and arrests were crippling to the movement. But the Party was also under pressure from within.

    Buoyed by the rising tide of the civil rights movement, events unfolded in an extraordinary and highly compressed period of time between 1966 and 1968, making the names Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Elaine Brown and Stokely Carmichael familiar even to white people far from the inner city. The Party was a response to a list of grievances and injustices, which became the ten points of the Black Panther Platform and Program. As Hoover and the FBI recognized, revolution was what the Panthers were aiming for - a complete transformation of the role that black people had historically played in American Society. The Black Panther Party made no compromises with the established political order in its early, defining years: Gun laws in California were changed in response to the Panthers, but, for a time, the picture of young black men carrying loaded weapons through the streets of Oakland became a defining image for a generation.

    Like all revolutions and would-be revolutions, the Black Panther movement was spearheaded by people with high aspirations as well as human failings. Rivalry within the party and disparate strategies to carry forward their ambitions - these combined with infiltration and assault on the organization from without to create pressures that would, in the end, bring the party to its knees.

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    Great Moments in American History - Set to Music will be presented at the Oakland Metro Operahouse, 201 Broadway (one block from Jack London Square), Oakland. For tickets ($20 advance/$24 at the door)

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  • http://www.oaklandopera.org
  • Dark River
  • Watch a movie about Fannie Lou Hamer
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  • About Us
    The Oakland Opera Theater is a group of artists who produce newly created operatic works. We address issues relevant to modern urban life. We highlight performers and artists of color. We use modern digital technology to reach beyond the audience seated in the theater. We produce fully staged productions geared to the pace of the 21st century. We seek to make opera more accessible to all ages and cultures and to represent Oakland with a dynamic arts organization that embodies the unique and vital spirit of our local community.