Magazine article The New Yorker

Stop, Frisk, Sing

Magazine article The New Yorker

Stop, Frisk, Sing

Article excerpt


In a parlorlike practice room at South Oxford Space, in Brooklyn, on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend, the new-music ensemble Two Sides Sounding rehearsed an opera scene called "Stop and Frisk." Its librettist, Daniel Neer, who is white, conceived of the piece during the Bloomberg administration; at rehearsals, the recent events in Ferguson were on everyone's mind. The piece, part of the BEAT Festival, will make its debut at a farmers' market in East New York this Saturday. (A ticketed performance will follow next week, at the Brooklyn Historical Society.) "Stop and Frisk" is the first scene of a three-part opera in progress called "Independence Eve," which takes place on July 3rd in three different eras and consists of dialogues about race relations, set on a park bench. The small audience included Neer; the composer, Sidney Marquez Boquiren; the director, Ted Gorodetzky; and Two Sides Sounding's artistic director, Eleanor Taylor.

The practice room had yellow walls, French doors, and yellow upholstered chairs, three of which had been pushed together to make a park bench. Jorell Williams, an African-American lyric baritone in a gray polo shirt and jeans, sang into a cell phone, "Will the cops be there?" He sang, "I'm nervous as hell, not sleeping, anxious." He looked sad. "Happy Fourth to you, too," he sang, and hung up.

Brandon Snook, a Caucasian "light lyric tenor slash leggiero tenor," as he later put it, came onstage. He wore an orange checked oxford shirt and khaki shorts. The pianist, Mila Henry, pounded out some minor notes. "Hey, buddy, sorry I'm late," Snook sang, elongating the words. Even during the recitative lines, both singers' voices were as loud as bagpipes, reverberating off the walls. Snook, standing, sang at length about a baseball game, while his friend sat behind him, distracted. "Holiday weekend coming up--the world's our oyster," Snook sang.

Williams leaned in and looked at Snook. "I'm suing the city," he sang.

Snook was taken aback. He sang, "You're what? You're what? You're what?"

"Suing. Those cops," Williams sang, his voice growing to fill the room.

"You're obsessed with this," Snook sang. He encouraged him to shake it off, and to get some wings and some beers with him. Williams looked annoyed.

Gorodetzky interrupted them. "Let's hold for a second before this aria," he said. Williams smiled, instantly lighthearted, and began making metronome noises with his tongue. Gorodetzky went on, "This is where the real awkwardness begins. …

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