On Easter Sunday, 1939, before a microphone on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied only by a piano, Marian Anderson closed her eyes and sang “America” to a crowd of 75,000 people of all races and a radio audience that numbered in the millions. The Daughters of the American Revolution, you see, had barred her from their auditorium, Washington’s largest, in Constitution Hall. So Anderson performed outdoors instead, thus inscribing her name forever on one of the most luminous pages in the annals of civil rights.
Commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, the hour-long chamber opera Marian’s Song received a rousing welcome at its premiere in March of last year, just before the world went into lockdown. A digital reboot is now streaming through May 30. The libretto, by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, Houston’s first Black poet laureate, views Anderson’s path through the eyes of contemporary slam poet out to save the church where Anderson first sang as a girl. (Spoiler alert: that church is gone.) The score by Damien Sneed, master of musical trades too many to list, stitches snatches of Bellini, Schubert, Richard Strauss, and spirituals (all staples of Anderson’s recital repertoire) into a patchwork of hip-hop-eratic parlando.