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Opera NOVA presents Treemonisha








The March 2017 production of Scott Joplin’s awesome opera Treemonisha will be the 45th annual production.

Opera NOVA regards opera as a complete art form which marries music, singing, drama, poetry, dance, and story-telling – a story told through the expressive beauty of words and music. Our practice of reaching out to families, students from churches, community centers, organizations and schools in South Arlington (home to most who suffer below the “achievement gap” is significant because we defy marginalizing these people, welcome them into civic engagement, and respect them as eligible for full membership into all that Arlington has to offer. Opera NOVA improves community image and status. The selection of our operas and their very positive presentations impact healthy social needs.

Opera NOVA’s passion is to use the arts to build the community so that the performing and visual arts are not considered a luxury or a frivolous matter but rather an expression of the unity and soul of our community. Opera NOVA has always been affordable and accommodating, but it is rather difficult to be free. In recent years, arts education budgets have dwindled, our citizenry demographics have changed, our senior community has expanded; many new opportunities and needs have also presented themselves. Opera NOVA works assiduously to fill these gaps and needs through professional productions of high quality performances that are not only enjoyable but also highly educational and life transforming. We believe that the arts can build, define, and serve a community and are seeking ways to continue our valuable and necessary service. Princeton University did a study on how the arts impact communities in 2002. This study reported that private and public agencies seek innovative ways to employ the arts to improve and strengthen communities. Opera NOVA builds social capital by getting people involved, by connecting organizations to each other, increases individual opportunity and propensity to be involved in the arts, increases opportunities for enjoyment for all.

Selected in tribute to African Americans living in our community, Treemonisha goes well beyond the of universal theme of most operas— its moral messages are manifold. Known mostly for his syncopated compositions such as the famous “Maple Leaf Rag”, Scott Joplin finished fifteen years of work on the opera in 1910, which has been performed rarely in this country. It is the first purely American opera and presents an African American voice, as well as Joplin’s obsession, according to his wife, that “ignorance is criminal”.Treemonisha is a story about the effort of forgiveness, the importance of education and the ability of a young woman to take leadership.

Opera NOVA is proud and honored to be the first professional opera company to bring Scott Joplin’s cultural treasure, Treemonisha, into public awareness. Through his heroine, Treemonisha, and his moving iconic music, Joplin encourages audience to believe in hope, happiness, and a new life through education.

It is our hope that the performances of Treemonisha will be a community celebration, an arts education experience for all who attend, and an expression of the culture of Northern Virginia. Public performances on March 4, 2017 will follow performances to thousands of school children. Treemonisha will bring to life the annual cultural field trip for children envisioned by Catherine Filene Shouse (Wolf Trap founder) to provide equal access to America’s Cultural Heritage. With ample participation Treemonisha will inspire civic pride, connect generations, bridge diverse groups, and serve as a symbol of who we are as a community. We hope many will join us to enhance the fellowship and goodwill that this production commands.

Opera NOVA offers a unique arts education experience in a time when school funding for arts has been reduced in favor of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education (STEM). American businesses publish their support of STEM education, yet support of arts education is rarely heard. Shouldn’t the awesome joy of seeing Musical Theater and watching “professional make-believe” belong to more children than just a limited class? Our community needs all children to be exposed to the aesthetic issues relevant to musical theater—its beauty, its ability to impact emotions, stimulate imaginations, and exalt spirits.

Opera NOVA’s production of Treemonisha is an arts and culture activity that reflects the spirit and soul of this community. We plan to bring Scott Joplin’s opera to children throughout Northern Virginia and long over-due honor to this opera composed by a musician driven by his innate talent to use the highest art form to convey a significant universal social message, astonishing for its period and still valid as a basic tenet of life that education is the road to salvation. Joplin, a man ahead of his time in more ways than one, also dipped into the area of women’s liberation, allowing his 18 year old heroine, because she has an education, to become the leader of her people.

The quality and accessibility of Joplin’s opera is appropriate to take its place in Opera NOVA’s 40 year history of performing an annual opera to introduce all area children to America’ s cultural Heritage. Yet one might question whether Treemonisha warrants being an appropriate Arts & Culture Activity for the entire community. Such an activity is often associated with projects of reclamation such as one in North Philadelphia’s economically impoverished Fairhill section or as  Its Executive Director, Martha Kearns, noted: the idea that art  throughout most of the history of Western Civilization, art served public purposes by expressing social ideals and symbolizing communal identity.

Making Treemonisha an Arts and Culture Activity for the Northern Virginia Community will allow us to share Treemonisha ‘s awesome social messages: Education is the Key to a free and full life and Wrong is Never Right. Let us as a community joyfully free Joplin’s Treemonisha from 65 years of denigration of being considered unworthy.

Ultimately, our goal is to spread Treemonisha beyond the Northern Virginia community. Our condensed version can be used as a model for other opera companies across the country. Treemonisha was composed by Scott Joplin, the renowned African American composer known as the “King of Rag Time”. Joplin worked on this opera for 15 years, finished it in 1910 and then it was rejected for 65 years due to the prejudiced notion that: “an African American could not compose an opera, jazz and rag maybe, but not opera”.

We offer seats for the performances of Treemonisha.  Four school mornings classes will come on yellow school buses and the public will be invited along with such groups as Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, Jack & Jill Clubs, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, etc. Wrapped from beginning to end in education, Treemonisha will have its own Study Guide for teachers to prepare for attendance enrichment, a narrator throughout  the opera and Q & As of the Cast after the performance.

Treemonisha been condensed to one hour for groups of school children, who will arrive by bus. Opera NOVA intends to encourage other opera companies across the country to perform the abbreviated work. Director Roger Riggle and Artistic Director Jose Sacin are assembling an experienced cast of opera performers to put on this ambitious opera, abbreviated to 70 minutes.

During the school week, classes will come from public, private, parochial and home schools. We hope to repeat the success we had at the public performance on Saturday March 4, 2017 that we had for Magic Flute and Barber of Seville bringing in 100 seniors and working with the wonderful Fenwick Foundation which arranged transport from nursing and rehabilitation facilities for 51 seniors, almost all exposed for the first time to an opera condensed for their enjoyment.

“The arts stimulate the very qualities that make us human; (They) are an essential component in a whole child approach to education” Placido Domingo.

“Art outlets for seniors are as important to their lives as encouraging physical exercise,” says Opera NOVA’s president, Miriam Miller. “Ninety percent of them are shut off from live arts because of the cost and difficulty traveling to high-cost venues. Participation in arts has been shown in research to improve cognitive functioning.”

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