Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows


Steven M. Allen


Cast of Characters

Paul Laurence Dunbar – Bass Baritone
Four Boys – Cambiata
Matilda Dunbar {Paul’s mother} – Mezzo
Major James Pond {Paul’s Manager} – Tenor
Alice Ruth Moore – Soprano
Leila Wright {Alice’s Sister} – Soprano
Patricia Wright Moore {Alice’s Mother} – Mezzo
Victoria Matthews – Mezzo
12 – 16 Mixed Voices {Party Guests}
Booker T. Washington – Bass
W.E. B. Dubois – Tenor

Instrumentation flute, clainet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, violoncello, double bass, piano

Duration: 2:25

Act I

1. Prelude
2. A Boys’ Summer – {ensemble}
3. The Majors and Minors’ Review – {trio}
4. A Letter to Alice – {arioso}
5. Do You Call That a Mistake
– {duet}
6. Violets and Other Tales – {arioso}
7. Sister, Sister – {duet}
8. Victoria Darling – {quartet}
9. Yours Very Truly – {aria}
10. A Lyric – {duet}
11. I Am Sincerely Yours – {aria}
12. A Poem for Alice – {trio}
13. I Could Learn to Love Him – {aria}

Act II

14. Till The Wind Get’s Right – {aria}
15. News From London – {duet}
16. When Malindy Sings – {trio}
17. Matilda’s Aria

18. Dear Child, Just Leave it to Me – {trio}
19. The Party – {ensemble}
20. The Poet – {aria}
21. In The Parlor – {trio}
22. We Wear The Mask – {trio, chorus}
23. The Engagement – {duet}
24. I Could Learn to Love Him – {aria}


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. At Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, he earned a bachelor's degree in music and studied conducting and composition under Robert L. Morris. In 2002, he relocated to Washington, D.C., to study composition and conducting at Howard University. His graduate studies include composition with Andrew Simpson and Steven Strunk at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Catholic University of America; ethnomusicology with Kip Lornell, George Washington University; and choral conducting and pedagogy with James Jordan, Westminster Choir College, and William Weinert, Eastman School of Music. He earned master's and doctoral degrees from Catholic University of America. He has composed symphonic works and spirituals; art songs for voice and chamber ensembles; and an 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 PBS documentary The Life and Times of Paul Laurence Dunbar, produced by Frederick Lewis, 2016. In 2014, his chamber opera The Poet: A Chamber Opera on the Life of Paul Laurence Dunbar made its world premiere in honor of Dunbar’s birthday and the opening of the newly renovated Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.

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