William Grant Still

TROUBLED ISLAND by William Grant Still

Troubled Island

Opera Synopsis

Opera Production Timeline

Premiere Performance

Directors and Cast

William Grant Still Art Center and Mural

JUST TELL THE STORY: Troubled Island

What's Inside

Book Review




Biographical Introduction

William Grant Still

Verna Arvey



Contact Information

    Opera Production Timeline

William Grant Still Music  
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Production Timeline

Realizing a premiere for Troubled Island was a labor of the heart that took almost a decade and a half for William Grant Still to complete. Yet, ironically, Troubled Island's premiere in 1949 was both the greatest triumph and the greatest defeat in the composer's career, and, perhaps, in the history of American music.

William Grant Still had dared to tread into territory that was closed to individuals of his race and those who dominated the realm of elitist grand opera were not going to allow his interference.  "Ultimately, it was both the genius and the uniqueness of Troubled Island that had inspired jealousy among the critics... ."  (John Kniest, Music Producer)  As a result, Still's Troubled Island has been denied its deserved presentation to this day.

William Grant Still solicits the help of Harlem Renaissance poet and writer Langston Hughes to write the libretto for his latest opera project, Troubled Island.

Langston Hughes moves to Spain in order to provide newspaper coverage for the Spanish Civil War, abandoning Still's incomplete opera project.  Stills pianist-journalist wife, Verna Arvey, steps in to complete the unfinished libretto for the opera.

Still completes Troubled Island, and, begins the struggle of securing a production.

Laszlo Halasz becomes the General Director of the New York City Center.

Conductor Leopold Stokowski, Still's friend and life-long advocate, secures the promise of a production for Troubled Island by the New York City Opera company, and, he plans for a premiere in March 1945. Stokowski establishes a fund at the New York City Center to produce the opera with the support of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Early 1945
NYCO executives deem that sufficient funds are not available to produce Troubled Island in March 1945, as planned. The opera's premiere is rescheduled for the Fall of 1945.

October 1945
Leopold Stokowski resigns as Music Director from the New York City Center under questionable circumstances.

Early 1946
Board of Directors at the New York City Center delay the operas production, once again, stating insufficient funding as the reason.

July 1946
Laszlo Halasz advocates the renewed production efforts for Still's Troubled Island.  Halasz and Still begin pre-production discussions and planning.

Late 1946
New York City Center, again, tells Still that there are insufficient funds to produce Troubled Island, even though the Center has ample funds to produce other works by foreign composers, such as those by Strauss and Giordano. Still asks the NYCC to return the donations to the Troubled Island Fund since the Center has not made a definitive commitment to the opera's production.

May 1948
Halasz writes to Still asking for his approval to schedule Troubled Island for a premiere in October 1948.  Halasz and Still renew their pre-production activities.

August 1948
Halasz postpones the premiere of Troubled Island until March 1949 due to the appearance of the NYCO company for the Chicago Opera in December 1948.

March 31, 1949    * OPENING NIGHT *
Troubled Island opens to a capacity audience which rewards the composer with 22 curtain calls.  The production is a resounding success.

The days following
Critical reviews are almost unanimously negative towards the composer's work and the production, but are otherwise courteous towards the New York City Opera company.

April 1, 1949
Troubled Island's second premiere performance is held.

May 1, 1949
Troubled Island's third, and final, premiere performance is held.  Future performances are withdrawn from production.

American Composer and Conductor William Grant Still

Troubled Island  |  Opera Synopsis  |  Opera Production Timeline  |  Premiere Performance  |  Directors and Cast  |  William Grant Still Art Center and Mural  |  What's Inside  |  Book Review  |  Testimonials  |  ORDER BOOK  |  Biographical Introduction  |  William Grant Still  |  Verna Arvey  |  Contact Information

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