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Location: Lincoln, Nebraska

Friday, October 07, 2011

Othello, Desdemona, Such Sweet Thunder

Shakespeare’s Othello has inspired numerous artists – as well as audiences – over the centuries and to the present day. Most recently, Nobel Prize Laureate Toni Morrison has collaborated with singer-songwriter Rokia Traore and director Peter Sellars on Desdemona, a work that focuses on the relationship between that character and Barbary, her mother’s African maid.

In this clip, Sellars discusses the genesis of the piece, which is currently touring.

Sellars talks about Morrison wanting to tell Othello’s stories to Desdemona more expansively than the summary Othello gives to the Venetian Senate. Those stories had already been told – purely in music – by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in their composition “Such Sweet Thunder.” The soloist is Ray Nance (not Clark Terry, as stated in the clip).

Such Sweet Thunder is also the name of the Shakespearean suite (note the pun) the piece begins. The above clip ends with “Sonnet for Hank Cinq,” which is inspired by the character of Henry the Fifth and is structured like a Shakespearean sonnet, with fourteen melodic lines of ten notes each, organized in three sets of four (quatrains) and a concluding couplet. The soloist is Britt Woodman.

Flatwater Shakespeare’s Education Director, Steve Buhler, has written about Such Sweet Thunder in the online journal Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation.

In the Sellars interview, the director insists that Shakespeare could not have encountered any black people in his community. Professor Imtiaz Habib of Old Dominion University has demonstrated not only that there were blacks in Early Modern England (Queen Elizabeth I would not have twice – unsuccessfully – have ordered their expulsion if none lived there) but that some of them lived in the South Bank parishes adjacent to many London theaters. Habib’s *Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677* is an important step in recovering this forgotten (and suppressed) history.

The Flatwater Shakespeare Company production of Othello, directed by Bob Hall, continues this weekend and for two additional weekends in the Lincoln Community Playhouse Family Theatre, 2500 S. 56th Street.

Performances are Friday-Sunday, October 7-9, and Thursday-Sunday, October 13-16 and 20-23. Show time is 7:30 p.m.

Ticket prices are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $10 for students. Group rates are also available.

Call 402-473-2897 for reservations.


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