One of my favorite things to do on Saturdays is listen to the opera broadcasts from Live at the Met from Lincoln Center, particularly if they're doing a performance of one of my favorites. I especially love the between act interviews and discussions. This past summer I learned of a contemporary African-American take on the first opera of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, Das Rheingold. In that version, the sought-after gold is James Brown's first gold record. I'm on the hunt to learn more about that adaptation, but in the meanwhile I have been inspired to give my own adaptation a try. My ring is set in Reconstruction/Gilded Age New York through 1919 and presents the events of Wagner's four operas from the point of view of the female characters.
I've got my titles all set and am luxuriating in all I'm learning about Wagner and his writing of the Ring as well as the situation of free blacks and their newly freed brothers and sisters in the late 1800's. Much is written about the gains and losses taking place in the South, but the trials and triumphs of Blacks in the North has my heart.
If you're unfamiliar with the stories told in the Ring, here's where you'll find short synopses of each of the four operas: https://larryavisbrown.com/ring-of-the-nibelung-rhinegold/
The first opera, Das Rhingold, is entitled Or What's A Heaven For? since it focuses on the aspirations of the women and how they deal with being second class citizens by virtue of their gender and race.
The second, Die Walkure, is entitled A Damned Mob of Scribbling Women. In my version the Valkyrie are front and center from the beginning of the story rather than bringing up the rear as they do in Wagner's opera. The activities of Fricka, Freia, Brunnhilda and Sieglinde as well as a new character I've created continue to focus on Black women's agency at an interesting time of social upheaval in the US. I took my title from a quote of Nathaniel Hawthorne's who was jealous that women writers were getting the acclaim and the success he felt he deserved but would never achieve because the reading public preferred the women.
Settling on a title for the third, Siegfried, is giving me a run for my money. I'm still debating whether or not to make Siegfried female so I can work with the issues of racial and sexual identity as well as how assimilation into the larger culture works for and against African-American women at this time.
The fourth and final opera, Gotterdammerung/Twilight of the Gods is tentatively entitled Red Summer. My Ring stories ends in the year 1919 when African-American communities were set upon by resentful rioting White mobs all over the country. New York was one of the few cities where African-Americans fought back. I thought this a fitting ending to my series since the fight for women's suffrage and the founding of organizations like the NAACP signaled an end or twilight to the idea of peaceful assimilation into the larger society. Another possible title I'm considering for this story, Nothing Without A Demand, is taken from the Frederick Douglass quote "Power concedes nothing without a demand." Who knows? I still may.
Time to get back to writing.