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An Opera Based On the MOVE Bombing in Philadelphia Asks: Can We Truly Love Each Other?

In a new opera, We Shall Not Be Moved, five teens find shelter in a condemned house in West Philadelphia, inhabited by ghosts recalling five children killed in 1985 when police bombed the headquarters of the black liberation group, MOVE. WRTI’s Susan Lewis spoke with the composer, whose work explores issues of racial and social injustice today. The opera is part of Opera Philadelphia's O17 Festival.

Susan Lewis talks with composer Daniel Bernard Roumain about his opera, We Shall Not Be Moved.

Radio script:

What I want people to remember: we're going to talk race and sexual identity.

Susan Lewis: Using operatic singing, spoken word, hip hop and dance,  and guided by a libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, or DBR,  has written a hybrid opera—each musical style flowing naturally from the character and situation—John Blue, a transgender boy born a girl, sings an aria about the pain of gender boxes.

[MUSIC: John Blue’s Aria]

Daniel Bernard Roumain: The stage directions are: John Blue should be singing this as if he’s tortured and twisted from the inside.

SL: The strong, young African American woman, Un/Sung, who leads the group uses spoken word.

[MUSIC: Un/Sung, spoken word]

SL: When characters interact, so do the musical languages. DBR writes music that mirrors the drama when Glenda, a Hispanic police officer, accidentally shoots one teen and is taken hostage.

[MUSIC: Trio]

DBR: Throughout the opera I’m always thinking about color...not just the color of the cast. I’m talking in analogy. I’m thinking about how I can get the most colors, the most sonorities out of a chamber orchestra.

SL: Music becomes a metaphor.

DBR: What I want people to remember: we’re going to talk race and sexual identity. The story grapples with a lot of the things that have separated this city, this country, and one another. Can we understand each other? Have a conversation with one another? Can we truly— and this is a dirty word, it’s so hard to say—can we truly love one another?

We Shall Not Be Moved, part of Opera Philadelphia’s O17 Festival, is at The Wilma Theater through Sunday, September 24th, and at NYC's Apollo Theater on October 6th and 7th.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.