Lyric Ready to Launch 'Amistad' Project
Byline: Bill Gowen
Lyric Opera of Chicago's educational outreach programs have built a solid reputation, but the special programs surrounding Anthony Davis' new opera "Amistad" should top them all.
"Amistad," which dramatizes the true events surrounding the 1839 slave revolt aboard the Spanish ship of that name, will have its world premiere here Nov. 29.
The "Amistad incident," as it became known, was the genesis for the United States' most famous human rights case before the Civil War, when former President John Quincy Adams came out of retirement to argue the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Adams represented the 53 Amistad passengers (captive Mende West Africans, from what is now Sierra Leone). Having been sold into slavery, they were charged with mutiny and piracy after taking over the schooner La Amistad off the Cuban coast, killing many of its crew and demanding that the two surviving crew members point the ship east, for Africa.
Instead, the crew surreptitiously headed the ship north on a zig-zag course, and two months later La Amistad ran aground off Long Island. The mutineers were arrested by U.S. authorities and held in a Connecticut jail for two years while their case moved through the courts.
The American Missionary Association became one of many church and civic organizations rallying to the Mende West Africans' cause during their incarceration and trial. Following appeals, the case reached the Supreme Court, where Adams represented them and won their freedom.
"It was one of the pivotal moments in American civil rights history," said William Mason, Lyric's general director.
The American Missionary Association eventually became part of the United Church of Christ, which is a key sponsor and participant in the outreach programs tied to Lyric's production of "Amistad."
The world premiere is also part of Lyric Opera's ongoing "Toward the 21st Century" artistic initiative, in which it is presenting one American and one contemporary European opera each season this decade.
Lyric's "Amistad" educational outreach programs are co-sponsored by the 1.5 million- member United Church of Christ, the Tulane University-based Amistad Research Center and select Chicago public schools.
Among the school-related events will be a special "Amistad" curriculum, a series of visiting lecturers and "Meet the Artists" visits to the schools.
There also will be two student performances of "Amistad" at the Civic Opera House, on Jan. 8 and 14, which will reach more than 7,000 young people, for a special admission price of $5 to $14. …