‘Robeson: The Opera’ to Premiere in Newark

Trilogy: An Opera Company, based in Newark, is putting on a production of "Robeson: The Opera," which chronicles the life of Rutgers football hero, singer, movie star and political activist Paul Robeson.

By Susan Wallner
State of the Arts

Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Emmett Till, Nat Turner, the four little girls killed in the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. Darfur. The first three black mayors of Newark — Kenneth Gibson, Sharpe James and Cory Booker. Paul Robeson. These are big, operatic stories. Trilogy: An Opera Company, based in Newark, is making sure these stories are being told.

“We focus on the work of black composers,” says founder and Artistic Director Kevin Maynor, “with subject matter relative to the black experience.”

Trilogy is giving a free preview of its newest work, “Robeson: The Opera,” Aug. 3 at the Central Theatre in Newark. The title role will be sung by Maynor, an operatic bass who has performed everywhere from the Metropolitan Opera to the Beijing Concert Hall.

Trilogy: An Opera Company presents excerpts from “The Three Mayors” composed by Michael Raphael. Performers: Kevin Maynor, Taiwan Norris, Mark Wilson, Adrienne Armstrong.

Maynor has performed more than 50 operatic roles in five languages. Throughout his career, he’s been most interested in the roles that delve into the human experience and bring people of all kinds together. Cut to Maynor’s newest project for Trilogy — “Robeson: The Opera.” Paul Robeson, the Rutgers football hero, singer and movie star, became a political activist in his later years.

“He was the ultimate communicator, he tied people in,” says Maynor.

Robeson, who performed internationally from the 1920s through the 1940s, often sang songs from different cultures to show how people were connected through their common struggles. Maynor recorded an acclaimed CD of some of these songs in 1998 — “Paul Robeson Remembered.” Not only do both singers have distinctively deep, warm voices, both have focused on strengthening their communities through music.

For “Robeson: The Opera,” Trilogy commissioned composer Adolphus Hailstork and librettist Shaunelle Perry. Other commissioned operas in the works focus on the Central Park 5 and the Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta. The Newark-based opera company has big ambitions, and funders are taking note. In 2013 alone, Trilogy: An Opera Company has received grants from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Puffin Foundation, Citi and several other corporations. The company is crowd sourcing support as well, through gofundme.com. The campaign’s goal is to stage a full-fledged production of “Robeson: The Opera” in the spring of 2014 and give it an international tour.

“There’s nothing more appropriate right now than Robeson,” states Maynor. “Particularly in Newark. Newark is in transformation. We need to make the peace. We need to find a way to get along.”

A free preview performance of “Robeson: The Opera” will be held Saturday, Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. at Central Theater, 246 18th Ave. in Newark. The world premiere is planned for the spring of 2014. On Nov. 3, Kevin Maynor will be performing a recital of Robeson’s most loved songs at NJPAC.

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, now airing on NJTV Sundays at 8 p.m. and Thursdays at 11:30 p.m.