Composer Mason Bynes (left), PHOTO Matao Aric Photography and Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola, PHOTO: Carlie FeboLibretto explores 1803 Igbo revolt in Georgia
BY CELINA COLBY
Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) commissioned “The Wanderer’s Tethering,” a bold new work by Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola and composer Mason Bynes that tells the story of Georgia’s Igbo revolution in 1803. The piece intentionally debuts Juneteenth weekend to reflect on an important piece of African American history.
In 1803, a group of people from the Igbo community of Nigeria were captured in West Africa and brought on ships to Georgia. When the Igbo people realized they would be enslaved in the United States, they revolted. Ultimately the Igbo group committed mass suicide by submerging themselves in Georgia’s Dunbar Creek, choosing death over captivity. In ‘The Wanderer’s Tethering,” the history is told from the perspective of a contemporary descendent who reflects back on the Igbo history in Georgia while preparing for her own open-water baptism.
“Igbo Landing was one of those narratives waiting inside me…brewing in me to tell,” says Olayiwola. The libretto is crafted in a fusion of spoken word and song that draws on her work as a playwright while also honoring the musical medium of opera. Olayiwola is of Black American and Nigerian descent, much like the contemporary narrator in the show, and learned about the Igbo Landing story not in school but through her own research. This commission brings that history back into the narrative.
“Porsha’s libretto pierced my soul as far as identity is concerned,” says Bynes. “Especially the idea of not knowing where you come from because all records of your story were burned or destroyed.” The duo worked by sending music samples and libretto back and forth, with Olayiwola crafting the spoken word text and Bynes writing the music for soprano and string quartet.
“The Wandering’s Tethering” will debut June 18 at 4 p.m. at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury during a pay-what-you-can performance. Part of the proceeds will be donated to The League of Women for Community Service, one of the oldest continuously running Black women’s clubs in the country.
In addition to this newly created 25-minute selection, the program pays homage to other Black composers with music by Florence Price, the first female African American composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra, and more contemporary pieces by Tufts University graduate Trevor Weston and composer Jessie Montgomery, whose piece “Source Code” was inspired by a variety of artists and civil rights activists.
BLO Artistic Advisor Vimbayi Kaziboni curated this additional song list with the collaboration of Castle of Our Skins, a local organization that celebrates and educates about Black music history. “This event celebrates so many aspects of the Black experience in America, and features music we think is meaningful around the Juneteenth holiday,” says Kaziboni. “In developing this program, it became important that the contemporary pieces link to music from the past.”