March 31, 1949
Troubled Island
Composer:William Grant Still
Librettist:Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey
Synopsis
The opera tells the story of Jean Jacques Dessalines, an African slave who liberated Haiti from French rule to become its emperor in the late 18th century. Dessalines, who ruled Haiti from 1803-1806, incites the revolt against the ruling French.

Setting: Haiti, 1791
Act I-In Front of an Abandoned Sugar Mill: Dessalines; his wife, Azelia; his aged friend, Martel; and other slaves gather together to wait for the voodoo priests. Once everyone has gathered, the priests declare that it is time to strike for freedom. Dessalines is chosen as leader of their rebellion against the white man.
Act II-The Palace of the Emperor, Several Years Later: Dessalines is now Emperor, but all is not well in his small kingdom. His secretary, Vuval, mocks him for wanting such nonsense as schools for Haiti. Dessalines laments to Martel that he wishes for a separate black land where people will always be free, but Martel tells him that Haiti must be the land of freedom for all people, white and black. Dessalines has divorced Azelia and taken as his Empress the beautiful mulatto Claire. Claire is secretly in love with Vuval, and together they plot to overthrow Dessalines and escape to Paris. Azelia, ever faithful, tries to warn Dessalines of the danger awaiting him but is rebuffed by the guards. A large, opulent banquet and ballet are announced, and there is much frenetic dancing and drumming. After the banquet's drums cease, incessant, distant drumming can now be heard in the jungle: The people have risen against Dessalines's rule.
Act III-A Quay in a Fishing Village: Dessalines is set upon by Vuval and other soldiers and is eventually shot in the back by Vuval. After Dessalines is assassinated, he is mourned only by the faithful Azelia.

Title Information

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Approximate Runtime (hh:mm)
02:00

Number of Acts
3

Musical Style
Tonal, mildly dissonant, some blues influence; tropical, Haitian traditional melodies

Original Cast
Muriel O'Malley (Celeste)
Nathaniel Sprinzena (Popo)
Marie Powers (Azelia)
Robert Weede (Dessalines)
Oscar Natzka (Martel)
Richard Charles (Vuval)
Also: Arthur Newman, Robert McFerrin, Ruth Stewart, Helena Bliss, Dorothy MacNeil, Frances Bible, Rosalind Nadell, Edwin Dunning, Richard Wentworth, William Stanz, Mary Lesawyer


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