Opera Philadelphia offers first look at MOVE bombing opera

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 The cast of ''We Shall Not Be Moved,'' (from left) John Little (tenor Daniel Shirley), John Blue (countertenor John Holiday), John Mack (baritone Adam Richardson), Un/Sung (spoken word artist Lauren Whitehead), and John Henry (bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock) stand in front of the boarded-up Osage Avenue home on the site of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. (Dominic M. Mercier for Opera Philadelphia)

The cast of ''We Shall Not Be Moved,'' (from left) John Little (tenor Daniel Shirley), John Blue (countertenor John Holiday), John Mack (baritone Adam Richardson), Un/Sung (spoken word artist Lauren Whitehead), and John Henry (bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock) stand in front of the boarded-up Osage Avenue home on the site of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. (Dominic M. Mercier for Opera Philadelphia)

An opera based on the 1985 MOVE confrontation — when police dropped a bomb on an African-American activist commune in West Philadelphia killing eight people — will premiere next month.

This Saturday, Philadelphia Opera singers will preview excerpts of the opera at a Baptist church in Jenkintown.

The opera, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” does not attempt to tell the story of the 1985 plice bombing — it is set in a contemporary time, decades after the tragedy, as a group of runaway teenagers hide out in a building in West Philadelphia where ghosts of the bombing still reside.

The music has elements not usually heard in an opera, including R&B, blues, and spoken word poetry. The director is famed choreographer Bill T. Jones, who wants to collapse high and low culture by bringing classical music and street funk into the same place.

“What do we mean by funk? Everything from diction — the way you sing a pop song, and the way theater music has to be sung,” said Jones during a rehearsal break at the Wilma Theater. “They have to get the skills that satisfy the operatic values, and at the same time to make us feel like it’s spontaneous and coming from city life. This is difficult.”

Jones will attend a preview event at the Salem Baptist church in Jenkintown on Saturday night, to speak on a panel about the MOVE bombing and the opera, with composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and artistic consultant and tenor Lawrence Brownlee.

The opera debuts at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia on September 16.

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