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Sing Out Strong—new works from activist opera company

Immigrant writers and composers express their experiences

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Sing Out Strong—new works from activist opera company
Soprano Melissa Joseph, pianist Julia Scott Carey and cellist Min Jin Chung perform the “Sing Out Strong” compositions at Cambridge’s Multicultural Arts Center. PHOTO: KENDALL BARTEL

On Aug. 1, White Snake Projects debuted the first concert in their “Sing Out Strong” series, a batch of free concerts featuring original music. “Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices” featured original compositions created in tandem by immigrant or first generation composers and writers in the Boston area.

Cerise Lim Jacobs, creator and librettist of the company, says, “White Snake Projects is an activist opera company. And I know those two words, “activist” and “opera” seem incongruous side by side, but for us it’s not. It’s part and parcel of what we do.”

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White Snake Projects puts on one main stage opera a year. This year’s opera, “I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams” delves into the experience of DACA recipients. The “Sing Out Strong” concerts are part of White Snake’s community engagement mission and are all free and open to the public. There will be two more free concerts this summer, on Aug. 8 at the Pao Arts Center and on Aug. 22 at WBUR’s CitySpace. Abbreviated selections from the program will also be performed before each “I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams” show, which runs Sept. 20–22 at the Emerson Paramount Theater.

Seventeen-year-old pianist, cellist and composer Avik Sarkar composed the music for “Now That Love is Extinguished” and “Abuelita,” two texts by Jonathan Figueroa and Melody Maduro. Sarkar was intrigued by how the writers’ experiences as Latin American immigrants were different from his own Asian heritage. “It was interesting to see that immigrants who come from different parts of the world face vastly different experiences,” he says.

Some of the pieces were sung in a more traditional opera style, achieving a radical reinterpretation of the medium. Others veered into contemporary styles. “A Spoonful of Hate” was written by Jorge Sosa, the composer of “I am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams,” and composed by Marina Lopez. Inspired by the jaunty Mary Poppins song “A Spoonful of Sugar,” the eerie tune illustrates the negative reinforcement constantly pressed on immigrants and people of color.

“The Big Deception” told the story of Irene Da Silva and Ivete Souza through a composition by Oliver Caplan. Da Silva and Souza, mother and daughter, were separated for 10 years due to an immigration technicality. The powerful performance reenacted the pain of their separation and the strength it took to be reunited. Da Silva and Souza were both present at the Aug. 1 performance to see their story told.

Soprano Melissa Joseph performed “A Spoonful of Sugar,” alongside pianist Julia Scott Carey and cellist Minjin Chung, and mezzo-soprano Vera Savage performed with the musicians and Joseph throughout the show. Joseph is the first generation child of Haitian immigrants and works by day with uAspire, a nonprofit that helps immigrants and undocumented students find financial aid for college. 

“With everything going on in our political climate, it’s so important to make sure that our stories aren’t muted in the face of all this loud, disrespectful rhetoric,” says Joseph. “I hope that for the audience member that has experienced some of these stories, that they feel represented.”

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