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Richard Danielpour

Publisher: AMP

Margaret Garner (2005),
Text Writer
Toni Morrison
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Year Composed
2 Hours 20 Minutes
SATB Black Chorus, 32 voices suggested; SATB White Chorus, 40 voices suggested
Principal Roles:Mezzo-soprano, Lyric Baritone, Dramatic Soprano, Lyric Baritone
Solo Instrument(s)
Secondary Roles:Dramatic Tenor, Light Lyric Soprano, Tenor, Lyric Tenor
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Programme Note
Richard Danielpour Margaret Garner (2005),

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Music by Richard Danielpour
Libretto by Toni Morrison

Composer note:

More than anything else, Margaret Garner is an opera that reminds us that we all belong to the same human family, and it demonstrates what can happen when we forget this fundamental truth. While slavery has been outlawed in the United States since 1865, its lingering effects have proven over the years that the issues in our country concerning race, class, and the true meaning of freedom are in no way resolved. Visiting Washington D.C. today, one can see memorials to heroes from every war and cause, but there is not one memorial to the people who suffered under the institution of slavery. It is my hope that Margaret Garner will both memorialize and remind us of what we as a society are so easily inclined to forget.

— Richard Danielpour

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Cast List:

Principal Roles:
   MARGARET GARNER*: Mezzo-soprano
   ROBERT GARNER*:Lyric Baritone
   CILLA*: Dramatic Soprano
   EDWARD GAINES: Lyric Baritone

Secondary Roles:
   CASEY: Dramatic Tenor
   CAROLINE GAINES: Light Lyric Soprano
   AUCTIONEER, a Professional Salesman: Lyric Tenor [doubles JUDGE I]
   SLAVE CATCHERS**: 8 Tenors, 8 Baritones (divisi: Lyric and Verdi) [from chorus]
   A FOREMAN/THE HANGMAN: non-singing role
   JUDGES**: Tenor, Baritone, Bass-baritone [from chorus; JUDGE I doubles AUCTIONEER]
   MILITIA OFFICERS: 2 non-singing roles
   MARGARET'S CHILDREN: 2 non-singing roles

   THE TOWNSPEOPLE/THE GUESTS***: SATB White Chorus [composer recommends 40 voices]
   THE SLAVES*: SATB Black Chorus [composer recommends 32 voices]

* Although much latitude is possible in casting, Margaret Garner does require that these roles be sung by Black performers.
** These roles can be sung by members of the White Chorus.
*** It is essential that the TOWNSPEOPLE be exclusively White performers. Also, this "White Chorus" must outnumber the "Slave Chorus."

When Edward Gaines acquires his deceased brother’s Kentucky estate, he pledges to let all the slave families on Maplewood Plantation stay together. However, when he takes a special interest in one of the slaves, Margaret Garner, it is not long before her husband Robert is sent away alone to another plantation. One night, Robert sneaks back to Maplewood and attempts to escape with Margaret and their children to the ‘Free State’ of Ohio. They are caught and Margaret murders her children in a crime passionel to spare them the indignity of a life of slavery. Margaret is condemned to death and although she is granted clemency at the last minute, she chooses the freedom of the gallows over life as a slave.

Margaret Garner, Act II (full score)

Margaret Garner (vocal score)

It's the best new opera that Lincoln Center has heard in quite a while....His arias may have "applause cues," but they often deserve them: The best, "A Quality Love," lingered in my mind for days afterward.
Russell Platt, New York Observer,08/10/2007
Mr. Danielpour's undeniable craft comes through in almost every passage. He can write lyrically ruminative vocal lines and knows how to energize choristers, as in an animated ensemble of slaves awaiting auction, where the words "No, no more!" become a theme for a syncopated, patter-filled, fuguelike chorus. The orchestral writing is flecked with color and richly sonorous. In his youth Mr. Danielpour, 51, was under the sway of serialist techniques, and hints of spiky dissonance are often tucked into his neo-Romantic harmonies, even in evocations of gospel and Gershwin. Whenever he takes greater risks and makes his language astringent, the music pulls you in.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,13/09/2007
...Margaret Garner did not disappoint the opening night crowd...Margaret Garner seems destined to take its place among America's most popular contemporary operas. Morrison's libretto is superb, both for its content and its pithy, poetic language. Danielpour's music is beautiful...the voices are given the primacy they need and his use of the orchestra is masterful. Morrison has made a keenly operatic adaptation of the Margaret Garner story, one which diverges considerably from history, but packs an emotional wallop of its own...No matter. Morrison has given Danielpour a powerful, streamlined vehicle for his music, which is colorful and accessible, utilizing African-American idioms and jazz but not at the cost of diluting his own compositional voice...Visually the production is stunning.
Mary Ellyn Hutton, Cincinnati Post,01/01/0001
...the Michigan Opera Theatre...chose an apt subject in Margaret Garner, the fugitive slave who murdered her two children to spare them a life of servitude. Toni Morrison adapted the episode for her novel Beloved and, in her debut as a librettist, has reworked it into a compelling text that is theatrically assured and poetically inspired. Danielpour is...a composer of skill and facility...Margaret Garner gives good entertainment value while rising to its wrenching subject....Margaret Garner works...
George Loomis, Financial Times (London),01/01/0001
Danielpour has mirrored Morrison's contemplative text with a poignant, neo-romantic score that is very melodic...opera companies are going to snap up Margaret Garner...The composer has welded a judicious mix of black gospel and jazz rhythms into his score to underpin his dreamy, lyrical set pieces. One can already hear some of his attractive, wistful arias extracted for recital purposes...
Paula Citron, Toronto Globe and Mail,01/01/0001
...Margaret Garner's resounding opening night success, an all-but-flawless triumph, must be attributed to the production's smooth polish and, on a deeper level, to the many buttons it pushes. It is both progressive and conservative, risky and predictable...Margaret Garner is devastatingly effective...The lesson is clear: engage an audience on multiple levels and you're likely to produce a new hit opera.
Pierre Ruhe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,01/01/0001
The roar echoing through the packed confines of Detroit's Opera House...[was for] the world premiere of the first original opera commissioned for and presented on that stage by Michigan Opera Theater, Margaret Garner. A highly skilled composer...Danielpour knows how to write for voices and how to support them orchestrally in a way that facilitates verbal clarity. [Margaret Garner] because of the emotional resonances of Toni Morrison's story. It also works because the opera has been handsomely produced, with a strong cast, directed on stage by Kenny Leon...The production seems set for a considerable afterlife...
William Littler, Toronto Star,01/01/0001 the deeply emotional new opera Margaret Garner, [there were] many spectacular moments that beautifully captured the two themes running through this opera like a strong river: love of family and hope...Saturday's world premiere of a work by Nobel laureate Morrison and the gifted American composer Richard Danielpour was nothing short of revelatory...the two-act opera was by turns heart-rending, poignant and gut wrenching to watch... ...A glimmering canvas of mysterious night music, led by Stefan Lano, introduced the opera. It was a first taste of Danielpour's sophisticated, wide-ranging palette, that ranged from serene orchestral interludes to joyous gospel choruses, Bernstein-esque jazz and free-flowing waltzes...But seamlessly joined to the music were Morrison's powerful, eloquent words, in what may be the most exquisitely crafted libretto of our time...Characters are sharply defined, and Kenny Leon's staging was both natural and powerful.
Janelle Gelfand, The Cincinnati Enquirer,01/01/0001
...Danielpour, one of the most commissioned composers of his generation, and Morrison, a Nobel Prize-winning novelist, assumed the ambitious task of forging [Margaret Garner,] an opera from the DNA of slavery...Danielpour is an expert orchestrator...Danielpour is most effective at his most songful -- Margaret's gorgeous first-act aria "A Quality of Love" or her bleak out-of-time intermezzo of darkness and despair [in Act II]. These are deeply expressive passages full of authentic emotionalism and even mystery: You can't fake tune writing this effective...In the end, [MOT's] risk paid off in an important new American work, and the first in what should be a string of operas by Danielpour...
Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press,01/01/0001
...Margaret Garner turns out to be an honorable achievement... Morrison's libretto doesn't try to be a history lesson...[her] verses glow with expressive truth...Danielpour's music is a skillful stew of American idioms and influences, ranging from spirituals, folk and jazz to Bernstein, Copland, Barber and Floyd...Danielpour writes gracefully for voices and magnificently for instruments -- the Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra sounded first-rate under conductor Stefan Lano...The production is a model of modern operatic resourcefulness...Kenny Leon has staged the opera with fine clarity and emotional point....
Donald Rosenberg, The Cleaveland Plain Dealer,01/01/0001
...the strengths of the hotly anticipated Toni Morrison/Richard Danielpour opera Margaret Garner are so considerable and wide-ranging that the piece is legitimately destined to make new friends for opera without alienating old ones...Wisely, the opera departs from history in theatrically savvy ways... ...the opera achieves firm footing quickly. Morrison has moments of poetic wisdom ("Words of love are moths: easy food for flame"). Musically, the pace of Danielpour's predominantly tonal score is brisk, and the masterly orchestration ...[is] full of ideas...when characters are having private, emotional sea-changes, the music achieves mesmerizing depths...
David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer,01/01/0001
Michigan Opera Theatre...was rewarded with [Margaret Garner], a well-made, affecting American opera...Margaret Garner is based on the true story of a slave who ran away from a Kentucky farm in 1856...Ms. Morrison used the story as a source for her bewitching, nightmarish 1987 novel, Beloved. The opera is nothing like Beloved...The opera is a more traditional theatrical narrative...In the novel, Ms. Morrison wrote her own arias in prose; in the libretto, her lines are short, spare and poetic, a sturdy yet flexible frame that leaves ample space for Mr. Danielpour's richly lyrical, tonal musical language. The music feels particularly American, echoing colloquial sources like slave work songs and spirituals as well as [a] soaring yet simply appealing melodic style...The music is particularly good at expressing the humanity and depth of feeling of the slave characters through arias and ensembles...Two large choruses, one white and one black, get some of the liveliest writing...Sophisticated settings of spiritual-like melodies and call-and-response patterns contrast with floods of overlapping expostulations that can be funny...or menacing...Mr. Danielpour's energy and inventiveness extend to the colorful orchestration, which is full of vibrant string writing and wind solos as well as wonderful little touches...
Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal,01/01/0001
Margaret Garner, moreover is history, literature and now theatre...Richard Danielpour has composed a melting pot in tones...Mr. Danielpour's soothing eclecticism is like an attentive host seeing to his guests' every need.... [His] musical language hews to gracious harmonies...The cast is splendid...
Bernard Holland, New York Times,01/01/0001
A great new American opera came to life at the Detroit Opera House with the world premiere of Margaret Garner, an eloquent and touching story about love and family in the face of horrific adversity. Although Margaret Garner is the first opera for both Richard Danielpour, one of America's most prominent composers, and [librettist] Toni Morrison, the new work is a hand-in-glove masterpiece of words fitted to music. Add to that a virtually ideal cast of singers, the seamless naturalistic staging by director Kenny Leon and unerringly dramatic conducting of Stefan Lano, the sum is an artistic event of resonant significance...Morrison's words articulate a collective soul, a loving fusion of spirits, and just as surely Danielpour's music gives that essence wings...this is opera, where ideas are sung and emotions translated by the power, nuance and pulse of music...Danielpour's imaginatively hued new score [is] ardent, vivid, direct and absorbing. All told, no less can be said of his splendid first opera.
Lawrence B. Johnson, Detroit News,01/01/0001
The muse of music must be smiling over Cincinnati after the triumphant opening of Richard Danielpour’s opera, Margaret Garner. This is clearly a major new work...[with] dramatic and artistic power.... Danielpour’s score takes creative control from the first beat. It is fresh and evocative, weaving gospel, jazz and cinematic influences into a rich tapestry that rapidly dispels trivial preoccupations with star power, historical accuracy or morbid curiosity. It creates its own drama. Morrison’s libretto provides a haunting and simple counterpoint to the work. The music and words are, refreshingly, not always in tune. They complement one another in dutiful service to the same dramatic master...
Dag Ryen, Lexington Herald-Leader,01/01/0001
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