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Anita Johnson, AnnMarie Sandy, Edward Pleasant, Frank Ward, Jr., Chauncey Packer, Todd Payne, Robert Mack, Janinah Burnett, Darren Stokes
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra and Singers
Rick Benjamin, conductor
World-premiere recording of the first-ever historically authentic orchestration of this “Sleeping Beauty of American Music” by Rick Benjamin
Scott Joplin’s (1867–1917) opera Treemonisha is an astounding work of art, and one that resonates on many levels. It is the only opera in existence about the Reconstruction Era African-American experience written by a black man who actually lived through it. This fact alone makes Treemonisha a work of tremendous significance. Further, Joplin’s music is profoundly expressive and as stylistically unique as anything ever created in America. There is nothing remotely comparable to it. And through his score and libretto, Joplin vividly documented a culture that has left us few other artifacts: The echoes of the “field hollers,” spirituals, fiddle tunes, revival hymns, and ancient African dances of his rural childhood are all heard, as are the spoken dialects of his people rising up from slavery. Further, Treemonisha is a statement of deep racial pride and an act of true artistic heroism—the creation of beauty in the face of almost unbearable ignorance, racism, poverty, and physical and emotional pain.
Yet for all of its obvious significance, Treemonisha has been a deeply misunderstood work, both in Scott Joplin’s era and in ours. His opera was complex and virtually unprecedented, two reasons why 1910s America could not embrace it. His original 1911 materials for the opera were almost entirely destroyed in the early 1960s. Although deserving much credit for taking interest, 1970s classical musicians were, for the most part, not concerned with the opera’s cultural origins or historic authenticity—the essential fabrics of this work. But now, on the centennial of this extraordinary creation, it is time to listen to Treemonisha with a deeper understanding. Listen now as Scott Joplin—The King of Ragtime Writers—sings the song he wanted America to hear.
Special package by cartoonist and ragtime enthusiast Chris Ware.