About The Promise of Living
By: Laquita Mitchell
In September 2020, Greg Carpenter sent me an email about Opera Colorado’s new series, Opera Colorado Amplified. He invited me to Denver to create a program, allowing me to choose the content and other artists. I was immediately excited, and several ideas flew through my head. Here I was, with the opportunity to be myself and create something from scratch.
I knew I wanted to reprise Tom Cipullo’s Josephine, and that revisiting my role as the amazing Josephine Baker would be part of the program. Josephine Baker was a unique woman of great strength and conscience. She would not allow the laws and prejudices of the time to deter her from demanding the respect she knew she deserved. From receiving the Chevalier de Légion d’honneur, the highest honor of merit for military and civil action in France, to being the only woman to speak at the famous March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was an American icon.
When I considered the artists I wanted to work with on the remainder of the project, Nmon Ford immediately came to mind. At the time, I was performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Augusta Symphony. I decided to drive to Atlanta the next day to attend a concert that Nmon was a part of. I had heard about him through friends and colleagues, but after hearing him perform that evening I was blown away. We had a conversation after the performance, and I asked if he would be interested in working with me. He said yes!
The program took on many forms. Nmon and I originally thought that we would present an homage to our parents’ country—we are both of Panamanian descent. However, my thoughts kept returning to the events of summer 2020. This was an opportunity to shed light on our nation’s history—how we came to be where we are at this moment in time. Leonard Bernstein said it best, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” This project is our reply to dealing with a pandemic and social injustice. The Promise of Living was born from this.
The idea grew into a poignant narrative of the history of Black Americans in our country, told through poetry, music, and dance. I selected music from Black American male and female composers, Jewish composers, and Spanish composers. I would like the audience to understand the importance of the creative arts during times of struggle in our nation’s history. Art can help us all honor one another’s humanity and open our minds to the ways diversity can unite us.
Another massive inspiration for the narrative of The Promise of Living is Representative John Lewis’ final statement in the New York Times. His words fill me with a powerful combination of joy, sadness, and hope. I chose to interweave his final charge to us throughout this program.
One of my favorite parts of working on The Promise of Living was exploring my own love of history and stories about the human experience. Once again, history can teach us all to respect each other and humanity. I have learned so much about historic American figures who helped change our nation’s story. I have also made connections and re-connections through this project that I am extremely grateful for. The first being Mr. Nmon Ford, who lent his wealth of musical knowledge to this program, as well as conductor Israel Gursky, whose experience and all-around musical curiosity made this a wonderful experience. I would also like to thank Terrell Davis and Davis Contemporary Dance Company for adding such beauty to this project.
I would like to thank composer, arranger, and scholar Mr. Roger Holland at the University of Denver who arranged a piece for “The Promise of Living,” as well as Mr. David Ossman. I would also like to thank the team at Rocky Mountain Public Media for continuing to create educational and diverse content that will strengthen the arts in Colorado.
To Opera Colorado: Thank you for this opportunity, and for giving me a space to create The Promise of Living and work with these incredible artists. I would also like to thank former Denver Mayor and First Lady Wellington and Wilma Webb for lending their voices and time to this project.
To you, our audience: I am confident that The Promise of Living will resonate with you no matter your background or culture. I hope that you learn. I hope that you reflect. I hope you are inspired.