Joan Ross Sorkinhome.html

Playwright      Opera Librettist      Musical Bookwriter      Lyricist     Screenwriter

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World Premiere, Long Leaf Opera, Chapel Hill, NC
June 15 and 17, 2007

"Long Leaf Opera has joined forces with UNC to create this equally historic first, a Festival that is dedicated to opera in, not just English, but mostly American language and idiom. As the first show for the Festival, “Strange Fruit” is well up to the task of presenting a stunner of an opening performance, giving us a basic struggle that is uniquely American, and yet delivering on everything that we expect of modern opera: stirring voices, fine characters, a terrific and adaptive set, and a full stage of voices with singers who are among the top voices in their craft... This opera is truly American, having as its root the jazz/blues style of music. Often a deep, pulsing bass is heard, a soaring clarinet or flute, a country fiddle. These characters create a mounting tension that culminates in chaos as the white townfolk gather for a lynching, and it is almost a carnival atmosphere. Afterward, those of Bess’s family, who have come too late to save him, join in a solemn prayer in which they ask forgiveness of their friend, Henry, in a gospel-based quintet that is sad beyond endurance.”

- Alan Hall, “Front Row Center,” Theatre in the Triangle, Vol. 13, No. 10, June 20, 2007

“Masterful work…so beautifully sung...[it] brought tears to my eyes….The score is a skilled potpourri of mountain folk music, gospel hymns, jazz, blues and contemporary classical composition. Especially impressive was Carter’s ensemble writing. In some scenes, several characters are singing their inner thoughts, each in their own idiom, yet all blending together in interwoven counterpoint with stunning effect, a technique Carter must have learned from Mozart. . . At the wake for Tracy, Tom sings a striking setting of the 23rd Psalm with the women singing responsorially. It was part folk, part chant, and part gospel with some amazing embellishments woven in. . . In one of those remarkable ensemble scenes Nonnie prays for forgiveness for not stopping the lynching while the other four pray their own prayers.”

- Ken Hoover, Classical Voice of North Carolina, June 19, 2007

“Carter. . . seems to have an inborn feeling for the Southern setting, confidently employing elements of jazz, blues and gospel hymns. These familiar idioms make the vocal lines sound natural and supply a satisfying unity. . . [T]here is no denying Carter and Sorkin's assured talent in a work that will easily bear repeated exposure.”

	- Roy C. Dicks, The News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, June 18, 2007

“It takes a very long time for art to process history, and when an artwork comes along that makes a righteous step down that path toward understanding, it is very exciting. Such a work [Strange Fruit] was presented in UNC-Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall last weekend, as a kickoff for the new daring venture of Long Leaf Opera Company, which primarily presents American works, and only operas sung in English…  Drawing on diverse American traditions (blues, gospel, jazz…), Carter has created lively music that moves us easily from scene to scene along a trajectory of emotion.”

- Kate Dobbs Ariail, The Independent Weekly, June 20, 2007
Strange Fruit In Concert
presented by 
The Harlem School of the Arts
 in association with 
New York City Opera
February 27 and March 1, 2009

New York Times

“Six years ago New York City Opera gave “Strange Fruit,” an opera in progress by the composer Chandler Carter and the librettist Joan Ross Sorkin, a crucial boost by performing scenes from it as part of Vox 2003: Showcasing American Composers…“Strange Fruit” had a premiere production in 2007 at the Long Leaf Opera in Chapel Hill, N.C…But it is second and third productions that are essential if a new opera is to have a chance at a future. For now, at least, “Strange Fruit” has had another hearing, courtesy of the Harlem School of the Arts in association with New York City Opera. On Friday night, at the school’s inviting performance space on St. Nicholas Avenue, “Strange Fruit” was presented in concert with a gifted cast of young professional singers, conducted by Steven Gross…

Mr. Carter, a North Carolina native, fills his score with evocations of blues, hymns, gospel and jazz. Much of the dialogue is set in lyrically inflected, slightly bluesy recitative, though the voices at times break into soaring flights…Ms. Sorkin’s libretto tells the story in abundant detail with subtly poetic, often rhymed lines…The cast members gave their all, especially the earthy soprano Janinah Burnett as Nonnie, and the robust tenor Daniel Neer as Tracy. Other standouts were Tamara Haskin as Nonnie’s sister, Bess; Robert Arthur Hughes as Ed…and Djoré Nance as Big Henry…” 

       - Anthony Tommasini,  March 3, 2009

-Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, March 3, 2009


Music by Chandler Carter
Libretto by Joan Ross Sorkin


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