Monday, September 28, 2020

CMU Professor’s Opera Now Showing Online


Nearly 20 years ago, From the Diary of Sally Hemings premiered at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The solo opera was composed by William Bolcom of the University of Michigan with libretto (text) by now-retired Central Michigan University professor of English, Sandra Seaton. The opera is a fictional account of the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings, the enslaved women owned by Thomas Jefferson and mother to six children fathered by Jefferson. As Seaton said at the time of the premiere, in the spring of 2001, “I wanted to give Hemings a voice and bring her to life. I wanted her to be more than a slave or a sexual role.” In 2001, Professor Seaton joined an audience that included descendants of Hemings and Jefferson at the Library of Congress for the premiere, which was covered in both the Centralight magazine and the CM Life student newspaper.

Mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar (left), Sandra Seaton (center), and William Bolcom (right) at the Library of Congress Premiere of From the Diary of Sally Hemings

Sandra Seaton (back, center) with descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson

Sandra Seaton (front row, fourth from the right) with descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson 

Now, the opera is again in the spotlight. The piece was scheduled to be part of the line-up of the 2020 Glimmerglass Festival, an opera festival held in upstate New York. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, live performances of the selected operas were cancelled. But that didn’t mean that show wouldn’t go on—the General Director of the festival, Francesca Zambello, decided to create videos of all of the operas to be performed. Professor Seaton’s work was performed and recorded at Merkin Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. And now, that recording can be seen by anyone with a connection to the internet. Enjoy the 47-minute video on the Glimmerglass Festival YouTube page.

Scene from Glimmerglass Festival performance of From the Diary of Sally Hemings