Title

The Poet

Authors

Steven M. Allen

Publication Information

(2009)

Text

Characters:

Paul Laurence Dunbar – Bass-Baritone

Matilda Dunbar – Mezzo-Soprano

Major James Pond – Tenor

Alice Ruth Moore – Soprano

6 boys – Sopranos

Original Cast:

Paul Laurence Dunbar – Gregory J. Watkins

Matilda Dunbar – Denyce Graves

Alice Ruth Moore - Lisa Edwards-Burns

Major James Pond – Daniel Noone

Scenes:

  1. Prelude
  2. The Poet (aria)
  3. A Boys’ Summer (ensemble)
  4. Majors and Minors’ Review (trio)
  5. A Letter to Alice (arioso)
  6. Do You Call That a Mistake? (duet)
  7. Yours Very Truly (aria)
  8. A Lyric (duet)
  9. I Am Sincerely Yours (aria)
  10. ‘Till The Wind Gets Right (aria)
  11. News From London (trio)
  12. When Malindy Sings (quartet)
  13. Matilda’s aria (aria)
  14. When Malindy Sings (reprise)
  15. I Could Learn to Love Him (aria)

Synposis:

The Poet was constructed as a vignette from the larger work, commemorating the opening of the newly reconstructed Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, DC, on June 27, 2014.

The setting is a beautiful and sunny day in Dayton, OH, June 27, 1896. The 24th birthday of Paul Laurence Dunbar was one he’d never forget. Dunbar worked as an elevator operator at the Callahan Building, located in downtown Dayton. It was there where he continued to write poems and other stories with the hope of one day finding success.

Paul’s life changed suddenly when he is met at home by Major James Pond, his manager. Major Pond delivers the news that William Dean Howells, the foremost literary critic of the late nineteenth century, has reviewed Paul’s work, Majors and Minors (1896), in the prestigious Harper’s Weekly Magazine. As with Dunbar’s earlier work Oak and Ivy (1895), the larger “Majors” section contained what Paul considered his most serious work, poems in standard English. The smaller “Minors” section contained his verses written in dialect. Though the review of the work was to make Paul an instant national success, Paul is distressed to find that Howells has praised only the works written in dialect, referring to them as “darky poems.” The critic has expressed astonishment at the idea that such well-written verses were “from someone who appeared to be of pure African blood… black skin and thick rolled-out lips.”

As fate would allow, the same evening, Paul stumbles upon a photograph of Alice Ruth Moore and a review of her book, Violets and Other Tales (1895), in the Boston Monthly Review Magazine. Astonished at her beauty, Paul decides to write her a letter.

Within six months of corresponding, Paul finds himself uncontrollably in love, while Alice contemplates the promises of an incredible fairy-tale romance. Then, Paul again receives life-changing news. Major Pond had become a welcomed guest in the Dunbar home. This time he bears news of Paul’s reading tour in London. Of course, Paul is ecstatic at the thought of being recognized as an American Poet, and “not just some darky with the gift to rhyme.”

Sharing the joy with his mother, Matilda, he asks her if she will sing for him. Listening to her sing, Paul pens the poem “When Malindy Sings,” in devotion to his mother.

Biographical Information

Steven M. Allen is an American composer, conductor, and ethnomusicologist who currently resides in Washington D.C. At Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, he received a Bachelor of Music degree and studied conducting and composition under Robert L. Morris. In 2002, Allen relocated to Washington, D.C. to study composition and conducting at Howard University while being the assistant choral director. His graduate studies include composition with Andrew Simpson and Steven Strunk, at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, The Catholic University of America, ethnomusicology with Kip Lornell, George Washington University, choral conducting and pedagogy with James Jordan, Westminster Choir College and William Weinert, Eastman School of Music. Steven M. Allen earned a Master's of Music degree as well as a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from The Catholic University of America. He has composed a variety of genres and styles such as symphonic works and spirituals and art songs for voice and chamber ensembles as well as an opera. Steven’s opera, Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows: An Opera based on the Lives and Love of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore is featured in The Life and Times of Paul Laurence Dunbar, produced by Frederick Lewis, 2016. This is the first PBS documentary on the life of Dunbar. In 2014, in honor of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s birthday and the opening ceremony of the newly renovated Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Washington, DC, The Poet: A Chamber Opera of Life and Times of Paul Laurence Dunbar was premiered.

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