Damien Sneed Talks About World Premiere of Youth Opera Empower
Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League’s collaborative program, EmpowerYouth! Igniting Creativity through the Arts, is excited to present Empower, an original opera developed with local African-American high-school students. The World Premiere one-night-only performance will take place Thursday, May 31 at 7:00pm at Chicago’s famous Lyric Opera House.
The student participants, who reside primarily in the west-side and south-side areas of the city, have been meeting weekly after school at the Chicago Urban League headquarters since the program’s launch in October. Working with Sphinx Award recipient and internationally renowned composer Damien Sneed, playwright Ike Holter, director Jess McLeod, and music supervisor Kedrick Armstrong, the youth-centric opera is based on the participants’ own life experiences in Chicago.
Empower will chronicle a group of students who band together to change their south-side neighborhood while fighting against the negative media representation from an overzealous reporter obsessed with corruption. The production will feature all 31 students performing on stage, with some participants also involved in the creation of scenic elements. Joining the production will be soprano Angela Brown and baritone Will Liverman (Ryan Opera Center alumnus), who starred as Addie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in Lyric Unlimited’s 2017 presentation of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD. A choir from Nicholas Senn High School will also be featured in the performance.
The set of Empower will feature unique scenes inspired by Chicago’s south side. The set is designed by Arnell Sancianco, with sound by Ray Nardelli, and lighting by Heather Sparling. Costumes are by Mieka van der Ploeg, assistant costume designer Katie Vaughters, and costume supervisor Alice Broughton.
EmpowerYouth!, jointly planned and administered by Lyric Unlimited, Lyric’s community engagement and education arm, and the Chicago Urban League’s Youth Development Center, is a multidisciplinary after-school program that develops skills in areas such as singing, acting, and movement/dance. The many weeks of preparation leading up to the performance included the students attending a performance of Lyric’s Turandot, meeting with renowned soprano Janai Brugger, a makeup tutorial from Lyric’s Wig and Makeup department, backstage tours, and more.
Sneed spoke of his involvement in the production here