Michael Abels and Rhiannon Giddens compose opera telling story of real-life Muslim scholar sold into slavery

Posted on: May 23, 2022

“Five years ago, the directors of Spoleto Festival USA asked the musician Rhiannon Giddens two questions,” writes Brian Seibert in Thursday’s (5/19) New York Times. “Had she heard of Omar ibn Said? Said was a man from what is now Senegal who was sold into slavery in 1807 and forced across the ocean to Charleston…. He lived enslaved for more than 50 years, was baptized and wrote several works in Arabic, including an autobiographical essay that would win him some posthumous fame. Giddens had not heard of Said, and because she was born and raised in North Carolina and is a serious student of slavery’s history, she was a little surprised. Not as surprised, though, as she was by the next question: Would she like to write an opera about him? Known principally as a banjo-playing folk singer and songwriter, Giddens is an artist of many accomplishments that include winning Grammy Awards and a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant…. ‘Omar,’ composed with Michael Abels, will have its … premiere at the festival on May 27 before it travels to Los Angeles Opera and Boston Lyric Opera…. ‘Opera is for everybody, so how do we reach more people?’ she asked.” Read Symphony magazine’s profile of Giddens.