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Transitions: Sung Stories

Transitions: Sung Stories

A New Opera Springs Forth –
From our own Community!

He saw Babe Ruth and he chased Rommel in North Africa. She was Pennsylvania’s first Black head nurse. He played with the Negro Baseball League. One child was a drug addict at age 5; another child witnessed lynchings; another’s father was a young intellectual revolutionary in Haiti – and eventually murdered at the command of ruthless dictator “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

These true stories and many others have sprung forth in oral history interviews conducted by Opera North, Inc. with residents of NewCourtland in Philadelphia and form the basis of an operatic collaboration now in progress between the two organizations. NewCourtland residents have participated in the creation of musical motifs and provided background for development of the plot. Some of the residents will perform in the productions!

The story line of the opera, entitled Transitions: Sung Stories, has been created by award-winning author Jules Tasca. He has woven life stories of the interviewed NewCourtland residents into the plot and blended these into a fictional tale of intrigue that – of course! – includes a love story. The music that transports the story is a blend of arias, choruses, and instrumental interludes composed by award winning composer Leslie Burrs.


Transitions: Sung Stories was funded in part by

The Concept:

  • Collect oral histories of selected NewCourtland residents and transform those stories into a new American opera
  • Engage NewCourtland residents in the creation process
  • Publish a book form of the oral histories and make it available to the public

The Process:

  • Select appropriate residents to relay their histories to the Opera North Inc interviewer/archivist
  • Design and schedule nine music related participatory workshops for NewCourtland residents.  Three workshops led by percussionist, three by the composer, and three by the choral director – all with each of the other two leaders participating.  Workshops designed to include positive social interaction, memory and cognition development, musical training and FUN activities.
  • Percussion workshops – led by Mogauwane Mahloele, internationally recognized South African drummer
    • gave residents an opportunity to try various percussion instruments
    • provided Opera North the opportunity to determine most appropriate instruments and NewCourtland resident performers to include in the opera production
    • determined how the selected ensemble would participate in the onstage performance
  • Music Concept/Composition workshops – led by renown African American composer Leslie Burrs
    • explored and developed residents’ musical creativity through techniques of improvisation, call and response, storytelling and visualization
    • culminated in a four-movement composition created by the NewCourtland residents entitled “A Children’s Day of Play”
    • with team teaching, this workshop reinforced and enhanced the percussion work
  • Choral workshops – led by award-winning Opera North choral director Carol Evans
    • engaged residents in meaningful vocal “play”
    • provided Opera North an opportunity to assess residents’ vocal capabilities for choral or solo participation
    • provided the composer a perspective on resident singers’ vocal range, capacity to sing harmony parts, etc, and how best to feature the residents in vocal performance
  • Performance Preparation workshops – led by all three
    • building on above workshops to refine creation of the opera-in-process
    • keeping NewCourtland residents actively involved
    • providing a platform for additional ideas for current and future productions