Opera Memphis highlights Crosstown neighborhood history

Opera Memphis will kicked off the 10 day Midtown Opera Festival with the debut of its original opera, Ghosts of Crosstown, a partnership between Opera Memphis, Voices of the South, Jerre Dye, Crosstown Arts and the PRIZM Ensemble. The opera, which is inspired by Midtown’s Sears Crosstown Building, premiered on the loading dock of the Sears Crosstown building.

"It’s one of the last chances for people to see the building before it is renovated," says Opera Memphis General Director Ned Canty, who explains that Ghosts of Crosstown is funded by $117,000 in grants from OPERA America, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, ArtsMemphis and the Hyde Family Foundation.

The performance took place just before the Sears Crosstown building becomes an active construction zone and a $175 million mixed-use redevelopment effort gets underway. The building was built in 1927 and was expanded upon until 1965 before the area became blighted and the building became dormant in the early 1990s.

Canty and writer Jerre Dye tapped into the building’s rich history during the creative process by collecting personal stories about the building from locals, as well as reading issues of The Conveyor, Sears Crosstown’s in-house newsletter for many years.

Ghosts of Crosstown is an anthology of five short operas, each ranging from seven to 13 minutes and featuring one singer and two to four instruments. Four of the mini-operas premiered during the festival, and the fifth will premiere during Opera Memphis’ 2014-2015 season.

"People don’t often think about opera as something to tell a small story, so we are trying to remedy that," says Canty, who
compares the mini-operas to short stories. "The starting point for each of these stories is the Sears building, and the stories and musical styles go out in every conceivable direction."

An encore performance of Ghosts of Crosstown will take place on April 12 at Playhouse on the Square.
By Michael Waddell

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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