Opera airs anguish and artistry of Beauford Delaney

Brandon Gibson as artist Beauford Delaney brandishes the paint brush the artist used to keep at bay the schizophrenic voices that tormented him.

The season of Beauford Delaney continues in Knoxville, this time with a gripping locally produced opera performed by the Marble City Opera last Friday and Saturday to a full house at Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

The one-hour world premiere tells the story of Knoxville artist Delaney’s gradual descent into madness toward the end of his life while he lived in Paris and was committed to St. Anne’s Hospital for the Insane. Local bass baritone Brandon Gibson, playing Delaney, left it all on the stage as he seemed to literally inhabit the role of the troubled painter. I almost leapt from my seat to confront the cruel “voices” — played by singers Regan Bisch, Joshua Allen and Breyon Ewing — who tormented the main character throughout the hour.

Huge projections brought the feeling of Delaney’s colorful paintings to the stage. Director Kathryn Frady explained the opera’s title — “ShadowLight” — to the audience prior to the performance.

“In the urban dictionary, shadowlight means a shadow produced by projection of light rather than an absence of it,” she said. “Unlike a typical shadow which is frequently associated with a person bringing their personal darkness into a positive environment, shadowlight is associated with a person bringing their light, their positivity, into a dour environment. For me this definition describes Beauford perfectly!”

Many art and music lovers were at Friday’s opening, which concluded with a buffet reception catered by the inimitable Holly Hambright.

The weekend opera follows the opening of an exhibit of Beauford Delaney’s art at the Knoxville Museum of Art, which will run through May 10. Please don’t miss it.

Sylvia Peters, art and music lover, is the force behind the current massive tribute to artist Beauford Delaney. She’s here with Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Music Director Aram Demirjian prior to the performance Friday.

Waiting for the show, from left, Karen Mann, Linda and John Haynes, Mary Morris and Cathy Hill.

Jackie Wilson and John Thomas prior to curtain.

Dorothy and Caesar Stair. He’s a member of Marble City Opera’s board.

From left, Knoxville Museum of Art Executive Director David Butler, Ted Smith and Marble City Opera board members, Dr. Michelle Brewer and Kim Henry.

Conductor Brian Holman, who would lead an 11-piece ensemble, and librettist Emily Anderson prior to the show.

Alan Sherrod of Arts Knoxville was there to review the show.

Kathryn Frady making remarks prior to the opera. The projected images reflect the colors of Beauford Delaney’s artwork.

Vincent Davis as writer James Baldwin, Delaney’s friend. The opera opened with Baldwin making remarks at Delaney’s funeral.

Brandon Gibson as Delaney.

Those damn voices!

Composer Larry Delinger and librettist Emily Anderson take a bow.

Holly Hambright, who also is a board member of Marble City Opera, pouring libations to celebrate the huge positive response.

Holly’s food reflected the flavors of New York and Paris, places where Delaney lived and worked.

A delicious display. She really outdid herself on this one!

Lots of cheeses.

You can’t get more French than pate.

Love this French mustard can!

Pissaladière with pesto.

Seafood is always appropriate!

Dessert? Macaroons, of course!

Haha. From left, bottom: Lisa Lawson, Holly and Maggie McCoig. At top: Vincent Fortner. All are members of Holly’s staff.

Knoxville Museum of Art Curator Stephen Wicks and his wife, Wokie Massaquoi-Wicks.

These ladies are in a service organization called “The Links, Incorporated,” a big supporter of this production. Standing, from left: Brenda Anderson, Gloria Deathridge, Dr. Evelyne Davidson, Leonia Johnson and Yolanda Childs. Seated, from left: Jan Hickman, Leslye Hartsell, Yvonne Dias-Bowie, Wanda Jones, Janda Brown, Avice Reid, Beverly Sligh and Sylvia Peters

Townes Osborn and Bob Marquis enjoying the reception.

Historian Jack Neely, left, with Aram Demirjian.

Dr. Michelle Brewer with my husband, Alan Carmichael.

Brandon Gibson with Marble City Opera board member Mark Hill.

Timpanist Michael Combs of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, with Holly. She once took music lessons from him!

Marble City Opera board member Michael Torano and Cathy Hill.

Mary Morris, left, and Marga McBride.

From left, Janda Brown, Avice Reid, Dr. Evelyne Davidson, Wanda Jones, Leonia Johnson and Leslye Hartsell.


Mardel Fehrenbach, left, with Emily Anderson and Mary Rayson, right.

Holly with Knox County Commissioner Evelyn Gill.

Kathryn Frady and David Butler.

Kim Henry and Alan Carmichael.

Jon Agazzi and Marble City Opera board member Sheena McCall.

Finbarr Saunders and Ellen Bebb.

Brandon Gibson with Marble City Opera board member Tom Fine.

Leslye Hartsell and Alan Carmichael.




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9 Responses to Opera airs anguish and artistry of Beauford Delaney

  1. Gay Lyons, on March 3rd, 2020 at 2:09 pm said:

    I hated to miss this. Looks like it was fabulous.

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on March 3rd, 2020 at 2:13 pm said:

    Gay: It was unbelievable. Actually, it was totally believable — that’s why I almost ran up and slugged the singers playing “the voices” in Delaney’s head. They were so cruel to him. No wonder he was in an asylum, if he kept hearing them speak to him that way. Very riveting performance.

  3. Alan Carmichael, on March 3rd, 2020 at 2:54 pm said:

    It was an outstanding production in all respects, voices, words and music, lighting and, of course, art. Proud of the Knoxville community for remembering such a noted artist in this way.

  4. David Butler, on March 3rd, 2020 at 2:55 pm said:

    Cynthia, as always, you have painted a vivid picture. What an unforgettable evening. Honored to witness the first-ever performance of a great work of art about a great artist!

  5. Sheena McCall, on March 3rd, 2020 at 4:09 pm said:

    Knoxville should be very proud of the way it is honoring Beauford DeLaney, from the installation of paintings at the KMA to Shadowlight, this original opera.
    It was an amazing production from the performances, to the creative staging and directing and the riveting original music.

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on March 3rd, 2020 at 10:15 pm said:

    Alan, David and Sheena: Totally agree. Very proud of Knoxville and this wonderful production.

  7. Monique Y. Wells, on March 4th, 2020 at 1:53 am said:

    Cynthia, thanks so much for this vivid, heartfelt portrayal of the performance and for the fantastic photos of the event. I feel as though I were there!

  8. Cynthia Moxley, on March 4th, 2020 at 9:29 am said:

    Monique: I hope they put this masterpiece on again. If they do, bring all your friends!

  9. Kathy Mayo, on March 5th, 2020 at 9:24 pm said:

    Will there be another performance?

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