As the first show for [Long Leaf Operas inaugural] Festival, Strange Fruit is well up to the task of presenting a stunner of an opening performance, giving us a basic struggle that is uniquely American, and yet delivering on everything that we expect of modern opera: stirring voices, fine characters, a terrific and adaptive set, and a full stage of voices with singers who are among the top voices in their craft... This opera is truly American, having as its root the jazz/blues style of music. Often a deep, pulsing bass is heard, a soaring clarinet or flute, a country fiddle. These characters create a mounting tension that culminates in chaos as the white townfolk gather for a lynching, and it is almost a carnival atmosphere. Afterward, those of Besss family, who have come too late to save him, join in a solemn prayer in which they ask forgiveness of their friend, Henry, in a gospel-based quintet that is sad beyond endurance.
—Alan Hall, Front Row Center, Theatre in the Triangle, Vol. 13, No. 10, June 20, 2007
The score is a skilled potpourri of mountain folk music, gospel hymns, jazz, blues and contemporary classical composition. Especially impressive was Carters ensemble writing. In some scenes, several characters are singing their inner thoughts, each in their own idiom, yet all blending together in interwoven counterpoint with stunning effect, a technique Carter must have learned from Mozart.
. . . At the wake for Tracy, Tom sings a striking setting of the 23rd Psalm with the women singing responsorially. It was part folk, part chant, and part gospel with some amazing embellishments woven in. . . In one of those remarkable ensemble scenes Nonnie prays for forgiveness for not stopping the lynching while the other four pray their own prayers. It was masterful work by the composer, beautifully sung by the artists and brought tears to my eyes.
—Ken Hoover, Classical Voice of North Carolina, June 19, 2007
Carter. . . seems to have an inborn feeling for the Southern setting, confidently employing elements of jazz, blues and gospel hymns. These familiar idioms make the vocal lines sound natural and supply a satisfying unity. . . [T]here is no denying Carter and Sorkins assured talent in a work that will easily bear repeated exposure.
—Roy C. Dicks, The News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, reviewed by, June 18, 2007
It takes a very long time for art to process history, and when an artwork comes along that makes a righteous step down that path toward understanding, it is very exciting. Such a work was presented in UNC-Chapel Hills Memorial Hall last weekend, as a kickoff for the new daring venture of Long Leaf Opera Company, which primarily presents American works, and only operas sung in English… Drawing on diverse American traditions (blues, gospel, jazz…), Carter has created lively music that moves us easily from scene to scene along a trajectory of emotion.
—Kate Dobbs Ariail, The Independent Weekly, June 20, 2007
The State of Things, hosted by Frank Stacio, North Carolina Public Radio, WUNC
Originally broadcast on June 14, 2007.
Frank Stacio discusses Strange Fruit with me, librettist Joan Sorkin, stage director Randolph Umberger and soprano Erina Newkirk. He begins the conversation with a very informed history of the poem, song and novel.