Hearing in Color, a Fractured Atlas organization in collaboration with WFMT 98.7 FM, presented the chamber opera Undying Love on November 12, at the warm, welcoming Kehrein Center for the Arts in the Austin neighborhood. Composer, librettist and conductor Steve Wallace’s 45-minute verismo (realism) opera was played by the fabulously named D-Composed, a Black chamber music string quintet, with piano and vibraphone. Chicago’s only all-Black ensemble focuses on Black composers and derives its name from the mission to deconstruct preconceived notions about classical music. The lead violinist’s sparkly sleeve added a visual accent to the higher notes, which often evoked a crying woman sound.
The “lightly staged” presentation was set in 1963 Queens, New York, where Taylor (baritone Brian Major) arrives home early after his band’s tour to surprise his love Angela (soprano Whitney Morrison). While Taylor was away, Angie sings that “she can’t take much more of this solitude,” so she spends time with sexy younger man Carlos (tenor Curtis Bannister). Taylor’s friend Jesse (tenor Tyrese Byrd) encourages Taylor to seek revenge, not unlike Iago stoking his boss’s jealousy in Othello. The quartet, all dressed in black, had palpable chemistry, and the excellent voices blended well.
The production also echoes conflicted lover themes from other classic tales like “West Side Story,” and the music alludes to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s late Romantic period builds and flourishes as well. Production information states that the piece is based on Nas’s rap song of the same name, and asserts “where love is distant, loyalty is questioned.”
Hearing in Color was founded in 2017 by Maryland native and DePaul graduate LaRob K. Rafael to perform overlooked and underrepresented music. Hearing in Color also offers a Young Composer Residency for emerging artists to write choral music for advanced treble voices. Applications for the 2022-23 season will be available in January.
Rafael also offered an excellent land acknowledgement during his curtain speech, blending Native and enslaved people commemoration: “Hearing in Color would like to acknowledge that Chicago is part of the traditional homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Odawa, Ojibwe, and the Potawatomi. Many other tribes, such as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Sac, Fox and Menominee – also called this area home.
By making this land acknowledgment, we recognize that the United States of America is an ongoing colonial project, of which we are all participants. Not only was this *land* stolen but so was the labor of stolen people. We offer recognition, respect and gratitude to the African and Indigenous peoples who were stewards of this land and to those who are living and thriving today.”
Undying Love was performed at Kehrein Center for the Arts, 5628 W. Washington Blvd. in Chicago on November 12. Donations can be made here for the Hearing in Color nonprofit.