In 2020, Cincinnati Opera anticipated celebrating their 100th anniversary, in part by commissioning a new world premiere, "Castor and Patience." The opera features music by Gregory Spears, composer of "Fellow Travelers," with an original libretto by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith, a former U.S. poet laureate. After two years of pandemic-related delays, "Castor and Patience" receives its debut in July 2022 in partnership with ArtsWave's Flow, an African American Arts Experience.
The main objective of Flow is to attract a diverse, culturally adventurous audience and elevate appreciation for artists of color. It complements and expands the Cincinnati region's inventory of multicultural arts experiences and now partners with local organizations to bring to life new and significant works. "Castor and Patience" is an original libretto by an internationally recognized African American poet and educator. Since it will be performed in English, it may prove more accessible than classic operas, presenting an opportunity to broaden the local opera audience.
"Flow's sponsorship of two performances of this production strengthens the relationship with a local arts organization, and together we are able to amplify the awareness of a deeply relevant and troubling subject matter of our times," notes Janice Liebenberg, ArtsWave's vice president, equitable arts advancement.
"Castor and Patience" follows two cousins who find themselves at odds over the fate of a historic parcel of land in the American South. Castor inherits a financial crisis thanks to the 2008 mortgage crisis and wants to sell his share of the family land. Patience is in the midst of fending off gentrification efforts by real estate developers, defending the family’s history and legacy that are tied up in the parcel.
"Patience is very much more tuned in to the generations she descends from that have made a mark on this land," librettist Tracy K. Smith explains. "Castor sees himself as this patriarch who has a lot of responsibility for his family and maybe even the shadow of his parents."
Deeply relevant to ongoing calls for racial justice, the story explores what journalist Vann R. Newkirk II calls "The Great Land Robbery." Land in the South was stolen from Indigenous Americans and cultivated by enslaved Africans, many of whose descendants obtained parcels after Emancipation. Bit by bit, through sometimes coercive or violent means, those parcels trickled back into the hands of Caucasians. According to Newkirk, "A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98% of Black agricultural landowners in America. They have lost 12 million acres over the past century."
With support from area businesses, foundations and individuals, Flow presents quarterly performances by renowned Black artists and ensembles. It is an intentional step toward attracting a diverse, culturally adventurous audience and elevating appreciation for artists of color. Flow is part of ArtsWave's efforts to build audiences for the arts that reflect the region we serve, which is a key outcome of its "Lifting as We Learn" Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access plan.
Cincinnati Opera's world premiere production of "Castor and Patience" runs July 22- 30 at the Corbett Theater in the School for Creative and Performing Arts. Tickets are available now. For information about this show or about Flow overall, visit artswave.org/flow.