Denyce Graves to Headline Washington National Opera’s ‘The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson’

By David Salazar

Denyce Graves is set to headline Washington National Opera’s “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson” this January.

The work, which will be presented at the Terrace Theater on Jan. 20 – 22, 2023 (three performances with two on the 22nd), will feature Graves in the role of Dawson, the founder of the National Negro Opera Company. Carlos Simon and Sandra Seaton created the work commissioned by Francesca Zambello. The production premiered at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2020 before receiving a second run of performances, in a revised version, at the festival in 2021.

Seaton set the work in Washington, D.C., in 1943, on a day when Dawson’s National Negro Opera Company is scheduled to perform on a floating barge to evade racially segregated venues. However, that plan comes to nothing because of bad weather, forcing Dawson to find a new venue.

Kimille Howard will direct the production, starring Amber Monroe, Taylor-Alexis Dupont, and Jonathan Pierce Rhodes.

Additionally, the show will feature several other ceremonies and events to help promote the life of Dawson and her achievements.

The Jan. 22, 2023, performance will feature the presentation of a Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award to Dawson for providing opportunities to gifted African American performers and challenging systemic racism.

Moreover, The Kennedy Center will curate an exhibit featuring photographs and other artifacts from Dawson’s estate. The exhibit will be open to the public between Jan. 18 – Feb. 1, 2023.

Finally, there will be a lecture on Jan. 19, 2023, at the Library of Congress led by DGF board member Dr. Karen Bryan entitled “Self-Determination on the Operatic Stage: Mary Cardwell Dawson and African American performance in Washington, DC and New York City.”