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VANQUI an American Opera

VANQUI is a tale of death and resurrection through the eyes of the heroine, Vanqui, a 19th century slave woman. The original music of Leslie Savoy Burrs and the libretto by John A. Williams brings new sound and text to this performance by framing a uniquely American experience in a compelling, multi-dimensional work of art. This opera portrays the story of two Africans, Vanqui and Prince. Enslaved in America, this married couple is forcibly separated and then both are cruelly murdered. They are resurrected as spirits who ride the wind searching for each other and for the Baobab tree. During their journey, they encounter famous freedom fighters including Harriet Tubman, Henry “Box” Brown, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown. Reunited in the end, Vanqui and Prince symbolize the triumph of slaves over an inhumane system and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

A Brief History

VANQUI has won the acclaim of the opera community from the rural mid-west to The Sorbonne in Paris, France. Excerpts of this opera were performed at the invitation of Harvard University for their APRIL IN PARIS CONFERENCE: AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC and EUROPE as well as their Gala Award Presentation in Paris to honor Quincy Jones. The music of VANQUI is grounded in jazz and operatic traditions with contemporary music overtones. Composer Leslie Burrs received The Legacy Award from the National Opera Association (February 2002) for composing the opera VANQUI. He was the first composer to receive this award. Librettist John A. Williams received the 1998 American Book Award for his book of poetry, Safari West that includes four poems from the VANQUI libretto. VANQUI received the Artistic Excellence Award from the Greater Columbus Arts Council (April 2000). Opera Columbus received the Campaign Success Award from Opera/America for the VANQUI project. Performances of VANQUI played to sold-out houses during its October 1999 premiere run in Columbus, Ohio, to audiences made up in large part by individuals who had never before attended an opera. In October 2004 VANQUI was presented at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to commemorate the African Burial Ground in New York City. A full production of VANQUI was presented in Philadelphia at the Prince Music Theater, May 2005 by Opera North, Inc. In 2006 a multi-media concert production of Mr. Burrsí opera VANQUI will be presented at the University of Maryland as part of the Clarice Smith Performing Artsí Defining Moments, American Sensibilities series. This production will feature the projected artwork of David C. Driskell. Mr. Driskell received the Presidential Medal from William Jefferson Clinton in December 2000 as a National Endowment for the Humanities recipient.

VANQUI has featured internationally renowned American artists from the opera, classical, and jazz worlds. They include: originalCook Dixon & Young star Rodrick Dixon; soprano Carmen Balthrop, the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco, Houston and Santa Fe opera companies; mezzo Marietta Simpson, the Royal Opera House, Houston and New York City Opera companies; soprano Benita Valente, the Metropolitan Opera and other major companies throughout the world; jazz sensation Gerald Veasley; “Emeril Live” music director Doc Gibbs; pianist Bobby Jones who has toured extensively with the Doc Severinsen Big Band; Diane Monroe, classical and jazz violin soloist, Ms. Monroe appeared in the movie Music Of The Heart starring Meryl Streep; Dr. Kay G. Roberts, international conductor and educator; South African percussionist, Moguawane Mahloele and international choreographer, music staging director, Mercedes Ellington.

Video by Tracey Snyder