Margaret Garner: Powerful and profoundly disturbing

This evening – well, yesterday now – I was given the fortunate opportunity to go to the open dress rehearsal of the Cincinnati Opera‘s local premiere of Margaret Garner, an opera they co-commissioned. Based on a local Cincinnati story, the opera, though not completely historically accurate, is good – very good, in fact – and extremely heart-wrenching, disturbing, thought-provoking, sad and, at times, hard to watch.

And though I never ever will profess to be a musical critic, the performance, the music and the pace were excellent. Another fine performance by Cincinnati’s opera production folks.

To give you an idea how hard it was to watch, in the crowd of about 500 people of mostly friends and family of Opera employees, there were several children. During the opera’s pivotal scene where Garner takes the life of her two young children, an approximately five-year-old child in the audience broke out into loud sobs. It further drove home the horror – the historic, real-life horror – that was being played out on the stage.

Ever since I first heard of this opera early last year I couldn’t wait to see it. As I’ve been privy to some of the preparation employees of the opera went through to get ready for this week, I was amazed at the passion and devotion they have given to this project. It’s hard not to also mention the outlay of cash also needed to commission an opera- easily more than $2 million.

Besides the Opera’s hard work, I have been sadly dumbfounded and left in disbelief at the brazen and contemptuous telling of Margaret Garner’s story at the plantation where this story started. The “farm” is just across the river from Cincinnati (near the airport). The way the docents tell the story that happened there isn’t benign or just wrong or inaccurate, it’s hurtful and extremely insensitive to the decedents of slaves that tour the site. On a more positive note, I have been blown away and deeply touched by Oprah Winfrey’s telling of Toni Morrison’s story in “Beloved“.

Though my West Coast friends knock us (hey, kiss my butt Ess Eff), we are lucky to be here in Cincinnati – a city on the move, evolving and changing and wanting to be better. But long before the Fountain gets slid 50 feet north and Bill Butler delights us with a mirror image along the Ohio River bringing us form to the mud pits nestled next to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, we had a kick-butt arts scenes. From Playhouse in the Park to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to the Contemporary Arts Center or that delightfully-free (thanks again Dick and Lois) Cincinnati Arts Museum – we’re lucky to be here. Even right now.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

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