In May of 1961, 13 Civil Rights activists set out on a historic mission to bring national attention to the racial inequality that plagued the American South. The Freedom Riders, as they came to be known, wished to challenge the deeply ingrained culture of prejudice by testing Boynton v. Virginia, a 1960 Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation of passengers engaging in interstate travel as unconstitutional – a ruling that was largely ignored throughout the Deep South. So the Riders boarded buses bound from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans, but as the movement progressed, gaining support in numbers as they forged through their journey, the opposition also grew – and that opposition was a violent and dangerous one.
Fifty years later, the courage of those who fought to bring about change has hardly been forgotten. And in celebration of that historic anniversary, Longue Vue House and Gardens commissioned “Freedom Ride,” a new opera concert by composer and Xavier University professor Dan Shore.
Set in 1961, the story revolves around Sylvie Davenport, a young New Orleanian set to begin her first year of college. Sylvie is drawn to the Freedom Riders through Clayton Thomas, an old friend and a Freedom Rider himself. Knowing full well about the dangers that those participating in the movement face, not to mention the repercussions in her own life – including losing her scholarship in the event of an arrest and her own mother’s approval – Sylvie must decide whether she will follow the path of convention, or sacrifice the life she has built in order to stand up for a cause that would change the course of Civil Rights in this country.
It was that path of self-sacrifice that guided Shore in his creation of “Freedom Ride.”
“Who was this person who had the guts to do this? What is that process? When I thought about that I realized I had my opera,” Shore recently explained.
“Freedom Ride” was commissioned by Longue Vue as part of a longstanding dedication that founders Edith and Edgar Stern held in not only supporting emerging artists, but also providing a community platform for discussion surrounding social justice.
As Executive Director Joe Baker explains, “’Freedom Ride’ continues the Sterns’ legacy and reinvigorates the museum’s commitment to offering lively, contemporary programs that are significant to the New Orleans community.”
“Freedom Ride” will be staged throughout the grounds of Longue Vue, located in the Lakeview neighborhood, and will feature the following internationally acclaimed soloists: Dara Rahming (soprano), Valerie Jones Francis (soprano), Chauncey Packer (tenor) and Anthony Zoeller (baritone). The soloists will be accompanied by celebrated pianist Wilfred Delphin and the Xavier University of Louisiana Concert Choir, directed by John Ware.
There will be two public performances of the opera, consisting of three vignettes, held on October 20 & 22.
Tickets for the October 20 premier, which starts at 6:30 p.m., are $500 (or $100 for patrons under the age of 35) and include admission to Longue Vue’s Annual Gala Fundraiser. For the second performance October 22, which begins 7:30 p.m., tickets will be $75 (or $35 for patrons 35 and under). Tickets for either show can be purchased online through Longue Vue Gardens or by calling Chris Bowers at (504) 293-4719.