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Blackness in Opera$
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Naomi Andre, Karen M. Bryan, and Eric Saylor

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780252036781

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252036781.001.0001

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Searching for “Authenticity” in Paul Bowles’s Denmark Vesey

Searching for “Authenticity” in Paul Bowles’s Denmark Vesey

(p.187) 9 Searching for “Authenticity” in Paul Bowles’s Denmark Vesey
Blackness in Opera

Melissa J. De Graaf

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the question of authenticity surrounding Paul Bowles's Denmark Vesey. Featuring music by Bowles set to a libretto by Charles Henri Ford, Denmark Vesey incorporates racial politics and Marxist allusions. Its language and music emphasize Africanisms and African American folklore, much of it thoroughly researched and, in Bowles and Ford's minds, authentic. This chapter first considers “authentic” representations of blackness in Denmark Vesey before discussing some of the opera's prominent themes, including Love versus Hate and the use of animal masks. It also explores Denmark Vesey's evocation of Communist-style revolution, paying particular attention to the conflicts and the gradual alliance between blacks and the Left as elements that set up the context of the opera. Finally, it analyzes the demise of Denmark Vesey due to the loss of the score and explains how Bowles and Ford achieved a distinctive result in their integration of race and politics as well as their bridging of race and labor unrest of the 1820s and 1930s.

Keywords:   authenticity, Paul Bowles, Denmark Vesey, Charles Henri Ford, racial politics, blackness, Communist-style revolution, blacks, Left, race

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