“I’m very concerned about the future,” says composer and UCSD professor Anthony Davis, who has never shied away from controversial subjects. “That’s why it’s important for me to continue to write about political events because I believe the country is in peril. We could easily fall into a plutocracy, and it’s an open question whether our institutions will survive.”
Davis has been scoring his latest opera, Darkest Light in the Heart, to premiere at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2020. That location has a special significance.
“[The opera is] about the church shootings that [white supremacist] Dylan Roof committed — although I don’t actually use his name. He’s a character, kind of a specter, but he doesn’t say anything, which is appropriate, because he didn’t say much when he was shooting everybody. The opera isn’t really about him — I didn’t want to give his ideas a voice — you see him with his gun but he’s really kind of a ghost.”
Davis believes this opera represents an opportunity to examine larger issues and painful truths.
“It’s about how the black community responded to this atrocity and the ongoing atrocities they’ve had to endure, and how to move forward. It’s told from the perspective of a survivor whose mother was killed and how she came to forgive the shooter.
“She has to wrestle through all these emotions, from hate and wanting revenge — all very natural responses — until she finally gets to this place of forgiveness. God and Satan appear as two African-American guys on a park bench — and they have a wager over whether she’ll keep her faith. It’s all about how you deal with the aftermath of a tragedy.”
Davis has witnessed the ebb and flow of the struggle for civil rights in the black community.
“We’ve made some progress in the last 50 years,” he said. “But we are also experiencing a serious backslide. If you look at the economic gains in the African-American community, there hasn’t been much progress. I think Trump’s election was emblematic of racial resentment.”
The composer is excited to get the ball rolling. “I’m working with a playwright named Steven Fechter who wrote the libretto; we just had a reading in the fall.”
Davis finds meaning in the intersection of music and politics: “Ever since my first opera [written about Malcolm X] it’s been my life’s purpose to illuminate these political moments that I think are cultural moments as well.”