Illuminating Thoughts: Melanie DeMore on the music of Obeah Opera

Melanie DeMore, the Grammy nominated Music Director of Obeah Opera, shares her 'Illuminating Thoughts' with us on what it's like to work with an all-female cast, the challenges of her work and influence of Black music.  

Jun 18, 2019 | BY: Melanie DeMore

Obeah Opera has been performed since 2011, can you tell us can you tell us a little bit about what your role involves? What does a Music Director do?  

My role as Music Director is to help bring the music to life for the composer and the singers. This work is taught by rote, meaning by ear. The singers do not have the score so the learning is very organic. I am somewhat unconventional as an MD. Building a solid connection between all involved (from directors, actors, stage managers, etc) is extremely important to me. We all sing together at the end of each day using whatever comes to my mind in the moment. When working with the cast, particularly in a piece like Obeah, which is about such a deep and painful subject as slavery, it’s vital that time be taken to talk, breathe and acknowledge what comes up. This is true for all the cast, Black, Brown and White. 

Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh 

Have there been many changes to this version of Obeah Opera, from a musical perspective? Have new songs been added?  

There are quite a few changes and new songs as well. Nicole Brooks, the visionary artist behind Obeah, has infused new life into the libretto, fleshed out the characters and their stories. 

The music is really the essence of Obeah Opera, it’s the spirit and the soul – can you tell us which songs most resonate with you?   

I have to say that most of the music resonates with me. As the sole African American Woman in the project, I appreciate the authenticity and respect given to the various musical styles. Ms. Brooks is a brilliant composer who studies and does honor to all the genres.  

There are many different musical styles referenced in the music of Obeah Opera (jazz, soul, calypso and gospel influences to name a few) and it isn’t an opera in the traditional sense. Can you explain why these difference musical styles have been incorporated?  And how they influence the work as a whole?  

Nicole has beautifully incorporated the various traditional styles of the African diaspora. The influence of Black music worldwide is phenomenal and often appropriated. She was and is inspired by our Ancestral legacy of resilience, perseverance and fierce beauty. 

Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh 

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while working on Obeah Opera?  

Having a working score has been challenging. One of my goals is to have a complete score for Nicole so that Obeah can live on. That is happening with the invaluable help of my assistant music director, Tara Litvack, who is painstakingly making that a reality. 

What is it like working with such a formidable team of women and an all-female cast?  

Incredible. We are, and always will be, family and sisters. I’ve been a part of many extraordinary projects in my life as a professional, Grammy nominated artist. I’ve been musical director for the ‘Wizard of Oz’ to various Sondheim musicals and many original projects. Obeah is in a league all its own. Each of women in the cast are not just on a musical journey together, but an emotional, ancestral path as well. I can honestly say that there is nothing like Obeah and I am so glad and grateful to be a part of bringing Nicole’s vision to life. 

What can audiences expect or take away from this show?  

Expect nothing like you’ve seen before and be lifted by the power of resistance and resilience. 

See the hand-clapping, foot-stomping Obeah Opera from on stage until June 22, 2019 at the Fleck Dance Theatre.