by Paula Citron.
Spoleto Festival USA
Written by Anthony Davis
Libretto by Thulani Davis
Conducted by Emannuel Villaume
Directed by Sam Helfrich
Starring Michael Forrest, Gregg Baker, Mary Elizabeth Williams and Stephen Morscheck
College of Charleston Cistern
Charleston, South Carolina
The big event at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA is the opera Amistad. Both composer Anthony Davis and his cousin and librettist Thulani Davis are African-Americans, so why is their take on this defining event in American history denuded of any drama?
In 1839, Sierra Leone captives mutinied on the Spanish ship Amistad taking them to slavery. The ship was captured by the US Coast Guard, and former president John Quincy Adams argued their case before the Supreme Court. The judges ruled that the Africans were not slaves and they were returned home.
The Davises do not tell this gripping story. Rather, they introduce two African gods, and while a bare bones plot does happen, this mythology merged with reality does service to neither. Happily, both Davis’ score and the cast are strong.
Unfortunately, director Sam Helfrich’s elaborate theatre in the round vision cannot find dramatic moments where a listless libretto has none.
Spoleto Festival USA continues in Charleston until Jun. 8.