Jesse Owens in song: The Sharecropper’s Son, 6 July

- 28 May 2013

A song cycle celebrating the life of American athlete Jesse Owens ‒ The Sharecropper’s Son by composer Michael Stimpson ‒ will be performed for the first time on 6 July at the Ashley Wood Festival in Wiltshire.

Jesse Owens’ record breaking 200m at the 1936 Olympic Games

Baritone Njabulo Madlala, soprano Abigail Kelly and pianist William Vann will be the performers in the new cycle, adapted from Stimpson’s 2011 opera Jesse Owens.

The performance will be preceded by an introduction by the composer and poetry from Grace Nichols and John Agard, with whom Stimpson collaborated for the original libretto.

‘I’ve gone for a completely different title to differentiate the piece entirely from the opera,’ says Stimpson on his website. ‘The main issue was what to include and what to leave out. One of the most complicated to adjust was the whole Olympic Games, because in the opera there was a whole act set round a film director, Leni Riefenstahl, and now that’s all collected in one particular song.’

There were musical challenges in adapting the opera, not least paring down a role which had been quadruple-cast as a dramatic tool: ‘The main issue is that in the opera the role of Jesse Owens was given to a boy soprano, tenor, baritone and bass, four different singers; because we settled on baritone for this particular piece one has a lot of adjusting to do.’

The Ashley Wood Festival, a multi-arts festival based near Tisbury in Wiltshire, will be marking the centenary of Jesse Owens’ birth with a day of events including The Sharecropper’s Son, poetry performances, a talk giving some of the historical context to Jesse’s story, and educational workshops in local schools.

Tickets £14/£12, available here. Day tickets also available at £20.


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