Opera for All Voices, a new consortium of regional companies that includes the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Minnesota Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, The Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera, Sarasota Opera and Seattle Opera, has awarded its second commission to Hofstra Professor of Music Chandler Carter.
Professor Carter’s proposed opera, This Little Light of Mine, about the life of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, was selected from 50 submissions from composers around the country. Submissions were to meet a number of criteria. Professor Carter explains the “voices” in Opera for All Voices refers to portraying new, relevant subject matter. It also has to do with writing for singers of all ages. Proposed works would also have to be produced on a manageable budget.
Why an opera about Fannie Lou Hamer? “Her story is one that I’ve had in the back of my head for the past 20 years,” says Professor Carter.
Hamer, an uneducated sharecropper in Mississippi in the early 1960s, tried to register to vote after attending a local meeting of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). For this she was fired from her plantation job and forced from her home. She subsequently became a community organizer for SNCC and a dedicated civil rights activist.
“She didn’t have the eloquence of a Martin Luther King, Jr. or many of the other civil rights leaders you read about,” says Professor Carter. “But she had her own eloquence. She lost her job. She was harassed. She was beaten. And unlike higher profile figures, she could have easily been killed and no one would have noticed.”
Professor Carter also says that when Hamer was in a particularly dire situation, “she would break out into song to encourage those around her.” “This Little Light of Mine” was one of her favorites.
Professor Carter will compose This Little Light of Mine as a one-act opera. His librettist on the project is soprano and writer Diana Solomon-Glover, who was a collaborator on the Black History Month Concerts at Hofstra from 2012-2016. He expects to finish composing This Little Light of Mine in the summer of 2019 so it can go into workshop that fall. Audiences may expect a premiere in 2021.
This will be Professor Carter’s third one-act opera. He has also composed two full-length operas, Strange Fruit (2005) and No Easy Walk to Freedom (1995) about the life of Nelson Mandela. Both were selected by New York City Opera for their annual VOX showcase of new works. His collection of works also includes more than 50 songs, choral, chamber and orchestral works, which have been performed throughout the United States and in Canada and Europe by numerous distinguished recitalists and ensembles. He has received several awards and honors, including two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and prizes for his Mass, Symphony for Winds, and Canticle I for tenor and orchestra.