By Andy Beta
Last Friday, at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, a soaring soprano voice pierced the quietude, strong enough to be heard inside and outside the building. In a small rehearsal space upstairs from the main sanctuary, eight singers, a pianist and Dr. Gregory Hopkins, conductor and artistic director for Harlem Opera Theater, were working through something of an operatic mystery.
“My heart is almost brooooken,” sang Metropolitan Opera veteran Janinah Burnett. The musicians then paused, puzzling over the tempo.
The group was rehearsing for a concert presentation of “Voodoo,” an opera written in 1914 by Harlem Renaissance composer and musician H. Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954). Not only had the work not been performed in nearly nine decades—it had never been recorded and had no published score.
“The singers have been learning from photocopies of Freeman’s handwritten score,” Dr. Hopkins said.
“Voodoo” will be performed Friday and Saturday at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, as a collaboration between Morningside Opera, Harlem Opera Theater and the Harlem Chamber Players. The work, set on a Louisiana plantation after the Civil War, blends traditional classical opera with African-American spirituals and popular dance music of the time.
Catch Voodoo at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, 2960 Broadway, New York, on June 26 and 27: buy online or call 212-866-1492.