Congratulations to co-composers Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels on being awarded the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in Music for their first opera Omar. The Pulitzer Prize Citation reads: “Omar, by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels. Premiered on May 27, 2022 at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., an innovative and compelling opera about the enslaved people brought to North America from Muslim countries, a musical work that respectfully represents African as well as African American traditions, expanding the language of the operatic form while conveying the humanity of those condemned to bondage.”
Omar was commissioned by Spoleto Festival USA, along with the Los Angeles Opera, and the Boston Lyric Opera. Its spring 2022 World Premiere was well-received and critically acclaimed. Omar was quickly mounted again in fall 2022 for the LA Opera’s West Coast Premiere; and, a few days before the 2023 Pulitzer Prize announcement, Omar’s most recent production took place at the Boston Lyric Opera who presented the New England Premiere.
When contacted by The New York Times, Giddens said “I mean, look: I’m bowled over right now…It feels amazing, because Michael and I just put into this what we know. It was a love letter to my country…what I love about it is that ability that people have to come together and make some new amazing thing. American music is a spectrum.” When asked about his thoughts on learning about the award, Abels added, “It shows the importance of telling of our stories through our fine art, that people are waking up to the truth of that statement and importance of our stories’ being part of our full artistic legacy….”
When commenting to Subito Music, Abels noted, “The Pulitzer is a dream of any composer, and I’m beyond thrilled and deeply honored to share this with my co-composer, Rhiannon Giddens. Omar tells the story of a devout African muslim who was kidnapped, enslaved in the Carolinas, and coerced to convert to Christianity for his captors’ convenience. This work attempts to recover and honor a perspective from our shared American history. In so doing, Omar challenges and inspires audiences at every performance, and provides exciting, substantial roles for gifted artists of color. I hope this award encourages even more people to learn Omar’s story, and to discover the visceral power of opera.”