“Margaret Garner” Bows in New York


Margaret Garner was a runaway slave who in 1856 killed a daughter rather than return her to slavery. She became the high-profile defendant in a subsequent, passionately argued trial. Garner is famously the source of the novel “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, and she is also the title character of “Margaret Garner,” an opera for which Morrison wrote the libretto and Richard Danielpour the music. The work had its premiere in Detroit in 2005, in a production directed by Kenny Leon and starring Denyce Graves, Angela Brown, and Gregg Baker.

Last night, I saw the first performance of a new production of “Garner” at New York City Opera, with a different lead cast except for Baker, who was magnificent. The NYCO production, directed by Tazewell Thompson, is said to be more symbolic than Leon’s picturesque one. My problem was not with the production, nor with the Margaret, Tracie Luck (shown here) nor with Danielpour’s often stirring choral writing. My problem was that the libretto lacks concision and directness; it often cried out to be read rather than sung. Still, it was an engaging evening, absolutely worth seeing by both opera and musical-theater fans. The audience liked it more than did the critic Anthony Tommasini in his New York Times review. I wish I could be in Chicago the first week of November, 2008, when Leon’s production, with Graves, will be revived at Roosevelt University.

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