A Chamber Opera: The tragic romance of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the First Black Poet, & Alice Ruth Moore
Richard Thompson composer
The Sanaa Opera Project | Stephen Tucker conductor
Composer Richard Thompson’s three-act opera presents the life behind the name of Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the most prominent African American poets of the early 20th Century. This dramatic performance, inspired by the hundreds of letters exchanged between Dunbar and his wife, Alice Ruth Moore, removes the masks of fame and social identity to investigate the psychological realities of the people underneath.
Driven by pivotal moments in the poet’s life, the chamber opera follows the arc of Paul and Alice’s relationship, from their courtship through letters, secret engagement and marriage, to their final estrangement and Paul’s death from alcoholism and tuberculosis at age 33. Throughout these moments, the audience gets a look behind the known storyline into the psychological challenges occurring beneath the surface for both Paul and Alice. Both characters grappled with the fact that they came from troubled relational backgrounds filled with abuse and apathy — much of which was translated into their own marriage. In addition, both struggled with their racial identity in a culture that generally judged and discriminated before it sought to understand.
The dramatic tension of their personal relationship and story, fused with the broader questions surrounding identity, appearance versus reality, and grappling with the person in the mirror, makes this a moving story on the operatic stage. Captivating, challenging, and compelling, THE MASK IN THE MIRROR is a necessary look into fame and identity as seen through this hero of African American poetry.