Composer Joseph C. Phillips Jr. Debuts Excerpts from ‘1619’ Opera Cycle at Brooklyn’s Roulette

By Chris Ruel

On Sept. 17, 2023, Composer Joseph C. Phillips Jr. and his 21-person chamber ensemble, Numinous, will present excerpts from the first of the composer’s eight-opera cycle, “1619.”

The performance will be held at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY, and feature sopranos Rebecca L. Hargrove and Ariadne Greif presenting music from “So Far Behind Now Because of Then.”

The opera, inspired by the New York Times “The 1619 Project” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ariticle “The Case for Reparations,” relates the story of a Black family’s experience living in a sundown town outside Chicago in 1948. Phillips’ opera will be presented alongside other works from collaborators.

According to the official press release, Phillips’ aim for 1619 series is to show how “virtually every institution in America, be it public, be it private, has a history of extracting wealth and resources out of the African-America community.” He hopes his work ”will provide historical perspective in telling the sweeping narrative of America’s failed promises.” He added, “These operas are the largest project I’ve done conceptually, logistically, and financially, and the grandest expression of my musical ambitions to date: to create compelling artistic statements that “generate emotions in the listener that resonate with beauty, mystery, and wonder in order to challenge, enlighten, and refresh.”

Photo: Chicago Tribune, Clark family piano burning in front of their apartment, after a mob of 4000 whites attacked their building, protesting their integration of the neighborhood in Cicero, Illinois, July 11, 1951