Artistic Statement by Douglas Tappin, composer/librettist of I Dream
I wrote and composed the Libretto and Score of I Dream while living in Atlanta, reading accounts of the Civil Rights Movement, and talking to many individuals who had been a part of it, including members of Dr. King’s family, and some of his closest friends. The experience was so visceral, so profound that I felt, literally, compelled to tell the story – one of the greatest stories in human history and, more particularly, a great American story of recent history. I needed all my resources as a musical-dramatic writer to set it as a Rhythm and Blues Opera…I am using that term partly because that is what I set out to do, and also because I appreciate the need to label something, to define it, even though it is just seamless story-telling, using music and drama combined.
At the core of the story is a plight that is one of injustice – the plight of the poor, the needy, the orphaned, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the stranger, the captive, the hated one, the ones who are persecuted. But the most remarkable thing about the story is the way some people chose to confront that plight – with love. And not just a theoretical concept of love, but love that was expressed in a strong, practical way.
The focus of I Dream is the thirty-six hours leading up to Dr. King’s assassination on April 4th 1968 and a series of dreams, reminiscence, and premonitions in respect of his life leading up to that point and beyond, right to the fateful moment on the balcony of Memphis’ Lorraine Motel. It is an exploration and poetic interpretation of the villain and the hero within the heart, humanity and façade of a man.
I Dream is a musical-dramatic work that effectively bridges classical and popular traditions in its writing, composition and orchestration:
In the Classical Tradition – an Orchestra of 35 musicians; the realism of Verismo with a primacy of dramatic purpose; on the scale of Grand Opera – a prioritization of immense production values and tremendous music, a strong sense of contemporary relevance, a vast cast, a significant movement and dance aspect, heroic confrontations, opulent duets, and weighty choruses; through-composed – each scene flowing evenly and naturally into the next, blending recitative, aria and arioso, establishing, developing and resolving themes and motifs; and appropriately featuring full vocal ranges.
In the Popular Tradition – 21st Century Artistic and Theatrical sensibilities and consciousness as to structure and duration; written in English with some dialogue; popular, relevant, accessible and universal subject-matter; familiar song, melodic, and rhythmic forms; a fusion of contemporary, gospel, soul, spiritual, blues and jazz styles; Rhythm and Blues instrumentation (featuring piano, Hammond B-3, lead, acoustic and bass guitars, and drums) and a contemporary sense of pace, relentlessly moving towards an escalated conclusion.
I set out to create something artistically excellent: musically, lyrically and as a matter of production – and something entertaining: a powerful, moving operatic experience that is definitive, memorable, and enduring. Additionally, I wrote and composed I Dream to honor the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement he inspired, to unite diverse individuals and institutions in understanding the prophetic message of Dr. King and, by remembering Dr. King’s dream in the midst of contemporary culture, to inspire those who experience I Dream to live that dream…by loving as Dr. King did.