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Encyclopedia > Wakonda's Dream

Wakonda's Dream is an English-language opera written by Anthony Davis with a libretto by Yusef Komunyakaa. It is set to premiere March 7, 2007 at Omaha, Nebraska's Orpheum. Anthony Davis (born February 20, 1951 in Paterson, New Jersey) is an African-American composer and jazz pianist. ... Yusef Komunyakaa Yusef Komunyakaa (1947- ) is an eminent American poet who currently teaches at Princeton University. ... Omaha is the name of some places in the United States: *Omaha, Nebraska (the most familiar one) Omaha, Georgia Omaha, Illinois Omaha, Texas It is also the name of a Native American tribe, after which the city in Nebraska is named; see Omaha (tribe). ... Official language(s) English Capital Lincoln Largest city Omaha Largest metro area Omaha Area  Ranked 16th  - Total 77,421 sq mi (200,520 km²)  - Width 210 miles (340 km)  - Length 430 miles (690 km)  - % water 0. ... Orpheum can mean: The Orpheum theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia The Orpheum theatre in Los Angeles, California The Orpheum theatre in San Francisco, California The Orpheum theatre in Memphis, Tennessee The Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace in Sydney, Australia The Orpheum in Centro Ybor in Tampa, Florida Orpheum Computing Solutions Many...



Wakonda’s Dream is about a contemporary Native American family, impacted by the historical events that occurred in Nebraska in 1879 that changed the legal status of American Indians to that of “human beings under the law” for the first time in U.S. history. The opera is the story of a mother, Delores, a father, Justin, and a son, Saxon, struggling to find their place as American Indians in contemporary society. Young Jason “sees things, feels things, knows things,” which terrifies his mother. Jason is also constantly teased by an older white boy, Sonny,and his brother Jimmy due to his ethnic background. Proud of her Ponca past, Delores keeps the history of their people alive for her son. This only intensifies Jason’s ghostly connection to the long-dead Chief Standing Bear, whose legacy is revealed in a choral rendering of the famous 1879 trial. As Jason grows from childhood to manhood, Standing Bear remains his spiritual guide, while Justin’s dismissal of his Indian birthright leads to tragedy and, ultimately, redemption.

Evolution of the Opera

As Anthony Davis was researching American Indian music and history, he attended the annual Ponca pow-wow in the Niobrara region of Nebraska. Among the thousands of attendees, he found himself one evening next to a woman, who, along with her son, became the inspiration for the characters of Delores and Jason. Indigenous languages of the Americas (or Amerindian Languages) are spoken by indigenous peoples from the southern tip of South America to Alaska and Greenland, encompassing the land masses which constitute the Americas. ... This article is about a Native American gathering. ...

This woman told Davis that she lived on land where Standing Bear was buried, and that her then-five-year-old son sees and speaks to the spirit of the Ponca chief. In collaboration with Komunyakaa, the two evolved a drama in which Standing Bear serves as Jason’s guide as the boy grows from childhood (in act 1) to adulthood (in act 2). Conversely, society and alcoholism serve as the antagonists, although some children, particularly Sonny could be played rather villainously.

The history of the removal of the Indians to Oklahoma and the subsequent internment and trial are revealed through this communion and through a choral reenactment of the famous trial.Davis says, “I didn’t want to create a historical narrative or an account of the trial. That could be more easily accomplished in other media like television or film. In opera you have to find a way into the story.

In this gifted child we found an artistic prism to look at history and not just present history. Having a character who can envision the past enables you to realize the past in the present. [In Wakonda’s Dream] the past has a concrete effect on everyone in the opera.” Komunyakaa, who was unable to attend the pow-wow with Davis, was, in his own words, “quite taken with the idea” of the visionary child, and “built the operaaround that concept and process of discovery.”

The opera’s stage director, Rhoda Levine, suggested Komunyakaa as librettist. She had had experience working with him on a project through Northwestern University. The composer and poet immediately agreed to collaborate at an introductory meeting held in the offices of New York City Opera in December 2002. Komunyakaa knew of Anthony Davis’work before the meeting, and was intrigued by the potential partnership. Of his writing process for the project, Komunyakaa says, “I knew I wanted to stay very closeto poetry in writing the libretto.” He notes that his work “has always embraced aspects of history as well as the imagination.”

When he was invited to write a libretto that included the history of the Standing Bear trial, he was amazed by the fact that American Indians in the late 1870s were not thought of as human beings, were denied property ownership and couldn’t appear in a court of law. Rhoda Levine, who was also brought on as creative consultant during the development of the project, also previously worked with Davis. Among her credits, she served in the same capacity as both director and dramaturge with Davis on X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X when it premiered at New York City Opera in 1986.

About her role throughout the development of Wakonda’s Dream, Levine frequently refers to herself as the “audience advocate,” a term she prefers to dramaturge. Levine describes the role of history in the story: “If one denies ones past, ones future is in some way impaired because your past informs your sense of the future. If you deny your roots, you lose a sense of your own identity. If one feels punished not by what they do but because of who they are – which is how Justin feels in our story – there is a sense of disconnect. He wants nothing to do with his native past. He feels it has limited his opportunities. But our past will always enrich who we are. That is the theme of Wakonda’s Dream, and it is a universal theme.”


Upon hearing Wakonda’s Dream, those familiar with X or other Davis works will be surprised by his inclusion of real “songs.” Listeners will also hear blues, jazz and gospel, and well as underlying Native American rhythms, as interpreted by the composer. Anthony Davis describes the score for Wakonda’s Dream in this way: “Generally, what I’m doing is a synthesis. I have created something new from many diverse sources. My background draws on the African American tradition, jazz particularly. I developed my own voice as an opera composer that hopefully is not imitative or derivative. My work has a rhythmic quality to it, with rhythmic structure as its foundation. Even in my choral writing, the choir is like a drum.”

Vision for Production

Levine describes the stage setting as “very simple. The action takes place on a raked surface surrounded by the chorus and a company of American Indian dancers. They are on stage throughout the entire performance, like spirits.”Set designer, Peter Harrison, says, “The scenic design for Wakonda’s Dream approaches the piece on several levels to reflect the psychological and spiritual realities which co-exist musically and in the libretto. “The unmoored world of Justin and his family is a floating raked earthen plain, littered with the detritus of contemporary Native American existence – nature that has been drained of the life and fertility it once held for native people – and filled with the trash of civilization: a broken motorcycle,old tires, crates, abandoned rusty oil drum, etc.” He continues, “The plain is also, on another level, the place where past ancestors have seen the Spiritof the earth, danced their shaman dances, and buried their dead to find a peace the modern world begrudges them. When Sonny or Arlington are on stage, I want them to stand out apart from the dancers, while the Labelles seem like they are more at peace while on stage.” In drama, the set (or setting) is the location of a storys action. ... The English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus (breath). // The English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning breath (compare spiritus asper), but also soul, courage, vigor, ultimately from a PIE root *(s)peis- (to blow). In the Vulgate, the Latin word translates Greek (πνευμα), pneuma (Hebrew (רוח) ruah), as... A libretto is the complete body of words used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, sacred or secular oratorio and cantata, musical, and ballet. ... A scooter and a motorcycle Mika Kallios KTM125 racing motorcycle A motorcycle or motorbike is a single-track, two-wheeled motor-vehicle powered by an engine. ... Classic-Spanish Marching Drum A drum is a musical instrument in the percussion family, technically classified as a membranophone. ... The shaman is an intellectual and spiritual figure who is regarded as possessing power and influence on other peoples in the tribe and performs several functions, primarily that of a healer ( medicine man). The shaman provides medical care, and serves other community needs during crisis times, via supernatural means (means...

Originator/Vocal Parts/Roles

  • Patrick Kilcoyne/Lyric Baritone/Sonny Troce
  • Kristopher Irmiter/Bass/Arlington
  • William Ferguson/Tenor/Jason Labelle
  • Jonah Davis/Boy Alto/Young Jason Labelle
  • Mara Bonde/Soprano/Laura Arlington
  • Lily Nunn/Soprano/Young Laura Arlington
  • Darin Anderson/Tenor/Joe Carson

order of appearance Baritone (French: baryton; Deutsch: Bariton; Italian: baritono) is most commonly the type of male voice that lies between bass and tenor. ... Baritone (French: baryton; Deutsch: Bariton; Italian: baritono) is most commonly the type of male voice that lies between bass and tenor. ... A bass (or basso in Italian) is a male singer who sings in the deepest vocal range of the human voice. ... Joe Fitzgerald one of the designers of the new, 2005 US nickel. ... This article is about the voice-type. ... A mezzo-soprano (meaning medium soprano in Italian) is a female singer with a range usually extending from the A below middle C to the F an eleventh above middle C. Mezzo-sopranos generally have a darker (or lower) vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between that... In music, a tenor is a male singer with a high vocal range. ... Standing Bear Standing Bear (1834(?) - 1908) was a Ponca Native American Indian chief who successfully argued in U.S. District Court in 1879 that American Indians are persons within the meaning of the law and have the rights of citizenship. ... This article lacks information on the importance of the subject matter. ... Look up soprano in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In music, a tenor is a male singer with a high vocal range. ... This article is about the voice-type. ... Look up soprano in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Look up soprano in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In music, a tenor is a male singer with a high vocal range. ...

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