It is a performance that has never been seen by any audience at Opera Roanoke. And it is a performance that will make a lasting impression. “It’s really important to have something like this because it’s unique,” says Brooke Tolley, Opera Roanoke General Director, as she describes the upcoming recital. “We don’t celebrate this work enough and it doesn’t get quite as much attention.”
Desire of the Soul: A Recital of African-American Art Song is a performance for the ages. The recital features the work of African-American composers in the 20th Century. “It celebrates the music of African-American composers and features well-known soprano Christine Jobson, as well as pianist Dr. Gregory Thompson,” says Tolley. “The music is so beautiful. It’s kind of a mix of everything. You’ll hear some spirituals, but also music that sounds very operatic as well.”
The dynamic duo has performed individually around the globe and most recently, they performed together last summer in Austria, where Opera Roanoke Artistic Director and Conductor Steven White heard them and invited them to perform at Opera Roanoke. He says the synergy between the two was riveting. “Christine has a gorgeous voice and she’s very professional. She has a way of relaying this music that is deeply personal and spiritual for her. That draws people in to give them an experience that is unlike anything they typically see. She does it in a high quality way,” says Tolley.
They will perform Song to the Dark Virgin by the late Florence Price and a piece by the late Betty Jackson King called In the Springtime. Other artists will take part in Desire of the Soul: A Recital of African-American Art Song.
“It’s such an intimate act. I feel like it’s one of the best ways I have to share of myself and to share the stories that the poets or composers have written about,” says Jobson.
Jobson and Thompson connect so well with the performance pieces it’s as if they’re one with the composition. “Dr. Thompson has a sweet patient soul. He is also very encouraging. He has my back,” says Jobson. “When you’re playing for a singer, you have to be a collaborator more so than focusing on what you’re doing as a pianist. He really helps make the picture complete.” The appreciation for art songs and spirituals is evident. Art song is legendary.
“Art Song is somewhat related to Folk Song because it usually connects with a certain area or ethnic group. Most of the music that people tend to know by African-American Pulitzers is usually the spirituals that have been arranged for concert singers and things, but the Art Songs are written more in the classical style that are more reserved as opposed to the rhythmic vitality that we associate with the spirituals,” says Thompson.
“I feel like I’m a part of the legacy that carries on the story because a lot of these composers are of course deceased and some of them died before they had an opportunity see their work on concert programs regularly,” adds Thompson.
“All of these artists, whether it’s a poet or a musician, have a lot to say. Unfortunately, a lot of times African-American composers are left out of the conversation and out of the programs and performances altogether,” says Jobson. “Most of them have passed away, but their music lives on every time I perform them or other people perform them, so it’s really a part of my mission and my passion to continue to share these songs with the world.”
Opera Roanoke is excited to help with this mission. All year long, the organization presents and participates in arts and cultural events throughout Virginia’s Blue Ridge including the impressive Apprentice Artist program. The organization is entrenched in community engagement through collaborations with area schools.
Opera Roanoke offers live performances every season, and every season it chooses performances that reflect the diverse community. It is an opportunity to gain a greater appreciation, deeper knowledge and a better understanding of this type of music. African-American Art Song plays such a rich and important role in Roanoke culture. “Seeing Christine will give people another level of appreciation for this art form that can sometimes seem a little inaccessible,” says Jobson. She hopes to empower and enlighten the audience. “I also hope the audience leaves feeling uplifted. It’s my desire that this program helps everyone reflect on the things that unite us, as well as help us celebrate the things that make us different,” says Jobson.
The performance will be held on Nov. 3, Trinkle Mainstage at Center in the Square. Tickets are $30. There will be a reception immediately following the recital at the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, second floor of Center in the Square. Tickets are $30.