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Washington opera highlights talents of U of M arts graduate

Jerre Dye (above), who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Memphis in 1993, is the librettist (writer of an opera’s text) for Taking Up Serpents, an hour-long opera about the daughter of a Pentecostal snake-handling preacher who is dying of a snakebite. It was performed last weekend at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater in Washington. Dye’s work is in collaboration with pairs composer and cognitive psychologist Kamala Sankaram.

The opera, according to DC Metro Theater Arts, a Washington-area arts news site, “features dreamy, impressionistic strains that call to mind Ravel’s sexually charged ballet score Daphnis et Chloë. It also employs on Appalachian shape-note singing, electric gospel rock, and the spooky sounds of a whirling plastic pipe approximating a singing saw to tell the tale of a Southern family riven by the actions of its snake handling patriarch and preacher.

“The show’s genius is that Dye’s libretto and Sankaram’s music combine seamlessly with the broad strokes Ainsley said are required for immediacy, without explicitly stating whether the violence at hand is sexual, mental and emotional abuse or a father’s zealous and shameful parenting demanded by an Old Testament God. What is also left unresolved is whether domestic violence justifies murder. The result is an appreciation of how some people are able to function in society while living outside the norm.”

Now based in Chicago, Dye received the Bryan Family Award for Dramatic Literature from the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2011 and owns a resume filled with other prestigious theater awards.

Other reviews of Taking Up Serpents:

“Dogs, snakes and piccolos: New operas take WNO stage,” from The Washington Post.

“Sankaram’s “Taking up Serpents” shows original, intriguing voice in WNO premiere,” from Washington Classical Review.

“Snakes on a stage: Opera focuses on a Pentecostal pastor,” from The Washington Post.

— Phillip Tutor, CCFA media coordinator, 

Published inDepartment of Theatre & Dance

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