GLOW stages an opera on the historical tragedy of SC

Christian Elser was horrified when he first heard the story of George Stinney Jr.the youngest person to be legally executed in the United States in the 20th century.

In a notoriously unfair trial in 1944, the 14-year-old African-American boy was convicted by an all-white South Carolina jury of murdering two girls. It wasn’t until 70 years later that the judgment was overturned for miscarriage of justice.

Why, Elser wondered, wasn’t this tragedy of racial injustice better known, especially in South Carolina?

Now Elser and his wife Jenna Elser, directors of Lyric Theater GLOWbring this story to life in Greenville.

“Stinney: An American Execution,” by young American composer and Furman University graduate Frances Pollock, is one of three productions at GLOW’s Summer Festival, July 15-31.

“It’s a powerful story with an accessible, top-notch score,” said Christian Elser, General Manager of GLOW.

The production of GLOW marks only the second time Pollock’s opera has been staged. It received its world premiere in February at Opera Grand Rapids in Michigan.

It’s especially poignant to perform the opera with a cast from South Carolina in the state where the incident took place, said Jenna Elser, artistic director of GLOW.

“Without restorative truth, we cannot move forward with racial justice,” she said. “The opera really focuses on how the community fails its children.”

A concern for social justice is central to everything GLOW produces. The two-week festival, with performances at Salvation Army Kroc Center near downtown Greenville, aims to “spark dialogue and spark change through opera and musical theatre,” said Jenna Elser.

Also scheduled for the festival is the Elton John-Tim Rice musical “Aidawith a plot that follows Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s classic opera. The musical about two warring nations takes on added resonance in light of the conflict in Ukraine, Jenna Elser said.

“Its main theme is that love can create peace and overcome hatred and discrimination,” she said.

L’Oreal Roache (Aida) and Jason Rodriguez (Radames) star in GLOW Lyric Theater’s “Aida.”

“Aida,” which enjoyed a four-year Broadway run from 2000 to 2004, also explores the racial justice theme of the GLOW festival.

The musical centers on a love triangle between the Nubian slave Aida, her Egyptian conqueror Radames and her fiancé Amneris, against the backdrop of the Nubian struggle to free themselves from Egyptian slavery.

Rounding out the festival is “Classic Broadway,” featuring medleys of Broadway songs — including “South Pacific,” “West Side Story” and others — that also tackle social justice themes.

GLOW, now in its 12th season, is returning to full productions after seasons of virtual performances (in 2020) and limited stagings (in 2021).

“It will be our longest and most expensive season to date,” said Christian Elser. “I feel better than ever this season because we’ve come back after two years where the arts could have been totally decimated. The support we’ve had has been wonderful.

Akasha Nelson stars in GLOW Lyric Theater’s “Classic Broadway.”

If you are going to

What: The GLOW Lyric Theater’s summer festival season, featuring ‘Stinney: An American Execution’, ‘Aida’ and ‘Classic Broadway’.

When: Various times, July 15-31

Where: Salvation Army Kroc Center, 424 Westfield Street, Greenville

Tickets: $38-$48

Information: 864-558-4569 or glowlyric.com

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