*dwb (Driving While Black),* 10/29/20
I heard *dwb (Driving While Black)* on 10/29/20. It’s a new chamber opera (written in 2018), music by Susan Kander, libretto by Roberta Gumbel. I was supposed to have seen a production of it this spring but it was canceled due to the pandemic. I was excited to see that Baruch College and Opera Omaha were presenting an online production.
It’s a one-woman opera about an African-American woman and her anxieties about the safety of her son, not just driving but simply living his life. The most chilling line in the opera: “It’s not a question of ‘if,’ my son, but ‘when.’”
The opera is scored for three performers: singer Roberta Gumbel (who also wrote the libretto), cellist Hannah Collins, and percussionist Michael Compitello (Collins and Compitello perform together under the name New Morse Code). The cellist and percussionist also contributed occasional spoken lines, setting the scene. The cellist also sang very briefly, taking the role of the woman’s son as a boy.
The music was so strong, so inventive and powerful. She got such an extraordinary range of colors and expression out of her limited forces. All three musicians were extraordinary, with of course special honors for Gumbel, who sang and acted with great sincerity and depth. The production was directed by Chip Miller, thoughtfully done for the online setting. It was filmed in a theater with no audience and beautifully edited for the online format, with just enough variety in the choice of shots.
I was very impressed with the opera and the production, it packed a great emotional punch. I’m eager to see more from all of the artists involved.