If you’ve never heard of the woman in the title—and most haven’t—The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson could spark an infatuation with a larger-than-life heroine who stood barely five feet tall in heels and fancy hats. Premiering at the Glimmerglass Festival on August 5, Sandra Seaton’s new “play with music” celebrates a classical soprano who, when her own dreams were dashed, made a bigger dream come true for her people.

Born in North Carolina, Dawson trained at the New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston, cleaning a dentist’s office to pay her way. But when she graduated, 31 years old and the only Black person in her class, American opera houses weren’t hiring singers who looked like her. Undaunted, she threw herself into teaching. The mammoth choral ensembles she led won national awards and played the New York World’s Fair.