Black British Academics Patron Dr Shirley Thompson continues to live up to her reputation as a cultural activist with her latest opera: Sacred Mountain: Incidents in the Life of Queen Nanny of the Maroons in Euston, London as part of the Tête-à-Tête Contemporary Opera Festival.
Dr Thompson’s influence for her latest rendition came in 2006 when she was commissioned to create a major composition for the Parliamentary Estate’s exhibition in Westminster Palace: Parliament & People (2007) commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Act .
Speaking to Black British Academics she said: “I was looking for an epic narrative to commemorate the resilience, courage, bravery, Godliness and ingenuity of my ancestors because in my view they have been largely misrepresented in the texts of mainstream history.”
After extensive research Dr Thompson, who is a Reader in Music at the University of Westminster, created Spirit of the Middle Passage featuring Black, female protagonists that represent the three continents involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Dido E Belle (Europe); The Woman Who Refused to Dance on the Slave Boat (Africa) and Queen Nanny of the Maroons (Caribbean).
“For the first time in music history a major orchestral song cycle features ‘others’ outside the European cannon in ‘high art’. Classical music subjects tend to be abstract and Greek mythology is revered in the genre but I uphold figures from Black Britain, Africa and the Caribbean as leading protagonists.”
Dr Thompson is renowned for masterfully integrating cutting edge contemporary classical music with Black Popular Music, drawing from socio-historical contexts that celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity and reshape and redefine classical music.
She has pushed the boundaries of classical music performance with the use of spoken word artists; the use of the kit drum in the symphony orchestra, synthesising contemporary popular music into symphonic music, working with neo soul singers and other such artists in the classical music domain.
Sacred Mountain: Incidents in the Life of Queen Nanny of the Maroons, previews with a talk: Heroines of Opera, at the Victoria & Albert Museum on 25 June, from 2:30pm – 4.00 pm in The Clore Study Room, British Galleries, where Dr Thompson will discuss the female historical icons featured in the first work in her trilogy of chamber operas featuring a solo female heroic protagonist.
Dr Thompson told Black British Academics: “I feature Black female protagonists and construct their representation as heroines and not as femme fatales – the typical role for women in the classical music cannon.”