On the run after a series of tragic incidents, five North Philly teens find refuge in an abandoned, condemned house in West Philadelphia at the exact location that served as headquarters of the MOVE organization, where a 1985 standoff with police infamously ended with a neighborhood destroyed and 11 people dead, including five children. This self-defined family is assuaged and even inspired by the ghosts who inhabit this home and begin to see their squatting as a matter of destiny and resistance rather than urgent fear.
This chamber opera by Daniel Bernard Roumain, an acclaimed composer and performer whose work defies genre, and librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, an arts activist known for spoken‐word performance, is “ambitiously interdisciplinary,” according to Bill T. Jones, the celebrated director, choreographer, dramaturge, and dancer. Combining spoken word, contemporary movement, video projection, classical, R&B and jazz singing, and a brooding, often joyful score filled with place, purpose, and possibility, We Shall Not Be Moved is a timely exploration of past and present struggles which suggests an alternate future through the eyes of its young protagonists.
Commissioned and produced by Opera Philadelphia, Apollo Theater and London’s Hackney Empire, this powerfully poetic interdisciplinary new chamber opera draws on the collective talents of Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and peerless director, choreographer, and dramaturge Bill T. Jones.
Music by Daniel Bernard Roumain
Libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph
Directed & Choreographed by Bill T. Jones
Conducted by Viswa Subbaraman
Lauren Whitehead as Un/Sung
Kirstin Chávez as Glenda
John Holiday as John Blue
Daniel Shirley John Little
Adam Richardson as John Mack
Aubrey Allicock as John Henry
Michael Bishop as OG
Duane Lee Holland, Jr. as OG
Tendayi Kuumba as OG
Caci Cole Pritchett as OG
EXCERPTS FROM THE WORLD PREMIERE, THE WILMA THEATER, PHILADELPHIA
THE BEST CLASSICAL PERFORMANCE OF 2017
New York Times
A Police Bombing, Homes on Fire and an Opera That Grapples With It All
NEW YORK TIMES
'We Shall Not Be Moved': A New Opera Traces The Legacy Of The 1985 MOVE Bombing
Has anything changed? Opera Philadelphia uses MOVE as a lens
We Shall Not Be Moved - Review
NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW
By Anthony Tommasini
SEPT. 20, 2017
“We Shall Not Be Moved,” by the composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and the librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, inventively directed by Bill T. Jones, has generated the most attention, for tackling roiling issues of race and inequality. (It’s playing next month at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, en route to London).
This raw, engrossing work looks back at the deadly 1985 incident when Philadelphia police, following several fractious standoffs, dropped bombs on a rowhouse that housed Move, a group of black separatists. Rather that revisiting the incident directly, the opera depicts a crisis in the lives of five North Philadelphia teenagers in 2017, runaways who form their own family. They take refuge in an abandoned house that turns out to be the former location of Move, inhabited by slinking dancer ghosts.
Mr. Roumain skillfully folds gospel, funk, jazz and contemporary classical idioms into the score. In a post-performance conversation with the audience, he said he hopes the piece “changes the notion” of what an opera can be.
It does, though less because of the hybrid musical style than the inclusion of long stretches of spoken text, accompanied by variously hazy, reflective and agitated stirrings in a seven-player instrumental ensemble. Mr. Joseph’s poetic words, whether sung or spoken powerfully, animate the storytelling, especially as delivered by Lauren Whitehead, a poet and dramaturge. She is riveting as Un/Sung, who becomes the motherly protector of this hurting teenage family.
The fine bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock brings aching intensity to John Henry, who is critically wounded during a panicked confrontation with Glenda (Kirstin Chávez), a Latina police officer: a “brown girl,” as she sings, who “bleeds blue.” The clarion-voice countertenor John Holiday breaks your heart as John Blue, a transgender man embraced by this new family.
At one point, bitterly reflecting that it hardly matters that the public schools can’t open on time, Un/Sung says, “On the first day, our cafeteria would still have smelled like a decaying future.” At its best, this opera comes across as an anguished requiem.