How Martin Luther King’s Life Has Been Explored in Opera

By David Salazar

Today is the day people in the United States celebrate the memory of Civil Rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. In a world where the legacy of America’s first black president is in danger of complete and utter eradication and many fear for their rights and freedoms in a political crossroads and tumult, Dr. King’s legacy stands rather prominently.

The hero’s story has been captured prominently in many art forms and media and opera is no exception While there are not many operas detailing his journey, there are a few that do him the honor.

The first is Nicolas Flagello, dating back to 1968. The composer was moved by Dr. King’s assassination and decided to write a tribute to him entitled “Passion of Martin Luther King.” The piece is not quite operatic in its structure but charts a musical path through many of Dr. King’s famed speeches with some added choral numbers.

More operatic in structure and content is Dr. John Baur’s “The Promise,” which premiered in 2005. The work is based on Dr. King’s struggles and details his own internal conflict with whether he was worthy of leading the movement that would lead to so much change.

“Dr. King suffered major internal conflict,” says Baur in an interview with University of Memphis Press. “He wasn’t comfortable being the leader of such an important movement, and he didn’t consider himself to be up to the job.”

The work chronicles many of the iconic leader’s quest for Civil Rights all the way to his tragic death.

There is also another operatic project currently underway known as “The March Opera Project” which places a spotlight on the March on Washington and many individuals, both known and unknown, who experienced that major event.


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