The story of Thomas Jefferson’s two families – white and black, whispered about through American history – will come alive on stage Oct. 16-18 at the premiere of “Monticello Wakes” at Loyola Marymount University.
The opera presented at LMU’s Murphy Recital Hall focuses on the lives of President Thomas Jefferson and his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Sally Hemings, a family slave who is believed to have borne several of the president’s children.
In “Monticello Wakes,” fictional descendants of the Jeffersons and Hemings visit the Virginia estate where their ancestors lived to confront their past with claims of privilege, retribution and doubt. As the mansion “wakes” to the interrogation, slavery pulls the characters back into history in illuminating and unsettling ways.
Composer Garrett Fisher, who co-wrote the libretto with Tim Appelo, deputy editor of TheWrap magazine, said the opera raises important questions about race and modern-day conflicts that deserve discussion, even if they go unanswered.
“What I love about the Monticello story is, it’s kind of a metaphor for what’s going on today,” Fisher said, adding: “We’re all related in some way.”
The opera brings together a talented artistic team including Director Ken Cerniglia, dramaturg and literary manager at Disney Theatrical Group; Producer Emily Martin, who has worked as a performer, director and assistant director with Opera Colorado, Santa Fe Opera and Palm Beach Opera; and Visual Director Tori Ellison, an LA Weekly art/film critic who recently created a public art piece in honor of Hemings for the city of Inglewood.
“Monticello Wakes” stars Emily Martin as Martha, Seattle Opera veteran Ibidunni Ojikutu as Sally, and José Luis Muñoz, veteran of ACT, EOS Opera of Köln, and Fisher Ensemble’s Magda G, as Thomas.
“The College of Communication and Fine Arts is excited about our collaboration with the Fisher Ensemble in staging this world premiere of ‘Monticello Wakes’ at Loyola Marymount University,” said CFA Dean Bryant Keith Alexander, Ph.D. “It is an excellent opportunity for our highly accomplished faculty and staff to collaborate with this professional company, and for our students to be involved and exposed to this major new work which both invokes and makes history at the same time.”