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PEAK Performances to present "Blind Injustice"

originally published: 01/17/2024

PEAK Performances to present "Blind Injustice"

(MONTCLAIR, NJ) -- PEAK Performances at Montclair State University is producing two opera-in-concert performances of Blind Injustice, composed by Montclair State University College of the Arts faculty member Scott Davenport Richards (A Star Across the Ocean, Charlie Crosses the Nation) with a libretto by David Cote (Three Way, The Scarlet Ibis). The performances—featuring 12 principal singers, a 12-member orchestra, and a chorus of 30—explore the true stories of six people who were tried, unjustly convicted, imprisoned, and who ultimately freed themselves with the help of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP).

Blind Injustice paints a damning portrait of how our country's criminal justice system repeatedly fails not only the wrongfully accused but their families and communities—and offers hope for a shared future founded on justice and reform. Blind Injustice is based on the work of the OIP and the book of the same name by University of Cincinnati Professor of Law and OIP Co-founder and Director Mark Godsey. Robin Guarino is stage director and dramaturg, and Ted Sperling serves as music director and conductor.

Performances of Blind Injustice take place February 16 at 7:30pm) and February 18 at 3:00pm at the Alexander Kasser Theater (1 Normal Ave, Montclair, NJ) at Montclair State University. Each performance will be followed by a public conversation with Nancy Smith and Rickey Jackson—two exonerees represented in the piece—and Mark Godsey. Tickets can be purchased at PEAKperfs.org or by calling 973-655-5112. All undergrads receive a prepaid ticket with a valid ID.

Blind Injustice was originally commissioned by Cincinnati Opera, where it premiered to acclaim in 2019, with The Wall Street Journal deeming it a “powerful piece of music theater.” Following the stories of Nancy Smith, The East Cleveland 3 (Laurese Glover, Eugene Johnson, and Derrick Wheatt), Clarence Elkins, and Rickey Jackson, David Cote’s libretto amalgamates text from the exonerees’ oral histories, research, and accounts from Godsey’s book into a work balancing scathing critique and hope, emotional testimony and meticulous analysis.

Richards challenges antiquated criteria for what constitutes opera, ascribing various musical styles and influences to each character in a composition whose flexibility of musical languages—jazz, funk, opera, musical theater, spoken word—allows it to dexterously flow between various storytelling modes and tones. At times, Richards’ composition upholds the colloquialism of its interview foundations, at others it mirrors and augments the libretto’s exploration of the insidious theatricality of the criminal justice system.



 
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Scott Davenport Richards says, “I've been an actor, and as a composer I often think about  character as an actor might. I will inhabit a character, speak the lines, create a rhythmic grid around those lines… followed by melodic shape, then compositional structure. Within the history of modern opera is an assumption that a given story will fit into the composer's musical ideas. I don't necessarily subscribe to that mode of working. I will take musical vocabulary from just about anywhere and use it, often with a sense of irony and commentary, to tell the story and to bring out something specific in a character. Here, the importance of the issue to society — and it is an issue for every community — justifies the musical size and the size of the voices.”

David Cote says, “It's a lot of story for a 90 minute opera, and it was exciting to tell it in a very breathless, cinematic and episodic way, with all of this variation — whether using language from exonerees’ interviews about their experiences of incarceration or Mark’s book’s detailing how, for example, not all forensic science is created equal. The forms it takes hopefully reflect how the criminal justice system feeds on storytelling and stereotypes: often on delusion. How you build a case against people, the adversarial nature of prosecutors versus defense, it all contributes to a kind of sick theatricality that helps to convict people, regardless of the truth.”

PEAK Performances, which is based at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ, commissions, develops, produces and presents music, dance, theater, musical theater and opera by world-class artists. Its 2023-24 season is the first under the direction of Wiley Hausam.


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