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“A Scholar Under Siege” demonstrates the genius of American composer Michael Braz

For many, ‘opera” conjures up the work of great European composers of past centuries. You may be surprised to find there is a strong American opera movement that regularly produces new work, often based on well-known stories or actual events of the past. When A Scholar Under Siege makes its world-premiere debut Friday, April 20, at Georgia Southern University, American audiences will welcome a new opera that tells one of the nation’s ” and Georgia’s ” most colorful 20th century political stories.

‘Composer Michael Braz uses A Scholar Under Siege to explore two strong personalities with conflicting views of power,” said Delma Presley, author of The Second Century: Georgia Southern 1906-2006. ‘Eugene Talmadge, Georgia’s governor of the 1930s and early 1940s achieved power through populist and segregationist rhetoric, but Marvin Pittman, the scholar who led Georgia Southern University with his mind and his heart, saw things differently. This opera explores their differences.”

Michael Braz is highly respected both at Georgia Southern University and among his musical colleagues around the world. He has taught composition, analytical techniques, orchestration, and a variety of special topics at Georgia Southern for 20 years. Inspired by a visit to the Dachau concentration camp site, Braz wrote and premiered his first opera, Memoirs from the Holocaust, in 1975. He has written orchestral/choral commissions for professional, collegiate, and school/community ensembles across the country and internationally, and was a recipient of an American Composers Forum/Rockefeller Brothers Fund ‘Faith Partners” grant. A keyboard soloist in England ‘s Haslemere Festival of Early Music, he has also collaborated with numerous orchestras, music festivals, and ensembles ranging from chamber music to jazz and rock.

Although music is his first love, Braz has always had a fascination with both philosophy and comparative religions. In 1996, as an extension of these interests, Braz first began trekking in the Nepal Himalaya. In addition to the Kathmandu Valley, he has traveled in the Annapurna/Pokhara area and, more recently, in the Mustang region bordering Tibet. Much of A Scholar Under Siege was conceived during his travels in this region.

Although the conflict that unfolds in A Scholar Under Siege was sometimes overshadowed by America’s entrance into World War II, Talmadge’s effort to squelch academic freedom in Georgia eventually became national news. Urged on by a handful of supporters who believed in the sovereignty of ‘southern tradition,” Talmadge charged Georgia Southern President Marvin Pittman with using college staff and equipment to improve his farm near the college”not mentioning that Pittman had assigned the profits of his farm to the college.He also criticized Pittman for entertaining faculty from the all-black Tuskegee Institute and circulating books in the library that advocated interracial cooperation.

The debut of A Scholar Under Siege takes place Friday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. at Georgia Southern University’s Performing Arts Center in Statesboro, Ga. Additional performances are Saturday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 21 at 3 p.m.

 

Tickets for A Scholar Under Siege are on sale at the Performing Arts Center Box Office at Georgia Southern. Adult tickets are $10, Georgia Southern students and children under 18, $5. To purchase tickets, call the 1-800-PAC-ARTS or go to http://ceps.georgiasouthern.edu/pac/pactickets.html.

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