“Treemonisha,” Opera by Scott Joplin Staged as Part of UTC’s 125th Anniversary Celebration

Reporting: Monessa Guilfoil

The following is taken from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga press release for Scott Joplin’s African American Opera:

The 125th anniversary of UTC continues with a special musical presentation. The UTC Music Department in cooperation with the Chattanooga Choral Society for the Preservation of African American Song will present two evening performances of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha on January 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee on January 29 at 3 p.m.

Treemonisha, composed by famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin, is a story of the triumph of education and enlightenment over superstition and ignorance among the African American population of the Texarkana region of Arkansas in the late 1800s. Perhaps even more interesting is the exploration of the theme of whether men would follow a woman as a political community leader during this era. Joplin sets these two themes against a musical backdrop of the romantic opera of the early 20th century. The score is not ragtime, although it incorporates elements of ragtime among its musical ideas. There are black folk songs and dances, and even a kind of pre-blues music alongside spirituals and gospel elements in the score.

The leading roles in this fully-staged costumed production will be played by UTC students and alumni with the title role sung by graduate student Varanda Bell. The production is being directed by UTC Theatre Professor Steve Ray and Maestro Jooyong Ahn will conduct the UTC Orchestra supplemented by members of the Chattanooga Symphony. The Chattanooga Choral Society supplemented by UTC choral students will provide the ensemble cast for the production.

Treemonisha is presented with support from the Tennessee Arts Commission, and The Ruth S. Holmberg Chair in American Music. Producers for the show are UTC Music Professor Roland Carter and UTC Theatre Professor Gaye Jeffers.

Joplin’s opera, originally composed in 1910 and published in piano-vocal score format in 1911 was never staged during his lifetime. Its sole performance was a concert read through with Joplin at the piano in 1915 at the Lincoln Center in Harlem, paid for by Joplin. The opera was forgotten until 1970 when the score was rediscovered and premiered on January 27, 1972, in Atlanta as a joint performance by Morehouse College and the Atlanta Symphony. UTC’s opening night will mark the 40th anniversary of the world premiere.

Here’s Scott Joplin playing his most popular, “Maple Leaf Rag” for pianola:

Listen to the Interview with members of the cast and crew of, “Treemonisha,” Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera:

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