Opera Profile: William Grant Still’s Historic ‘A Bayou Legend’

By David Salazar
(Credit: Carl Van Vechten)

Next to “Troubled Island,” “A Bayou Legend” is William Grant Still’s most famed opera.

The opera had its world premiere on March 31, 1974, at Opera South in Mississippi. It would then have a historic performance in 1981 when the Mississippi Educational Television Authority presented the opera on TV, marking the first time an opera by an African American was broadcast on television.

The opera was written by Still’s wife Verna Arvey.

Short Plot Synopsis

“Troubled Island” is set in a 20th century Creole village near the Mississippi Delta. It follows Clothilde, a young woman in love with Bazile.

Bazile is not in love with her at all and she discovers that he has been communing with a spirit known as Aurore, who claims to be his lover from a distant era.

Out of jealousy, Clothilde threatens to have Bazile arrested for violating local religious customs if he doesn’t marry her. He refuses so she arranges for a mob to lynch him.

Facing death, Bazile’s soul is united with Aurore. Clothilde winds up a recluse for the rest of her days.

Watch and Listen

Check out this recording from 1979 from Opera South featuring Carmen Balthrop, Gary Burgess, and Rachaelle Porter, among others.


Opera Wiki