On This Day in 1975: Scott Joplin’s Opera, Treemonisha, Made Its Broadway Debut

As the Metropolitan Opera debuts its first opera by a Black composer, we remember another historic opera that received its long overdue debut less than fifty years ago. Many people know Scott Joplin as the “King of Ragtime,” a prolific composer of over 100 works that defined a distinctly American genre of music that first emerged in the 1890’s. But did you know that he also composed a ballet, two operas, and was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to American music?

While the score to Joplin’s first opera, A Guest of Honor, has long been considered lost, Treemonisha endured as a critically acclaimed work of artistic and historical significance. It was performed only once during Joplin’s lifetime as a concert read-through with the composer at the piano. Decades later, as ragtime enjoyed an unexpected resurgence in public interest during the 1970’s, it was given its world premiere by the Afro-American Music Workshop of Morehouse College and the Atlanta Symphony in 1972, followed by a full production by the Houston Grand Opera in 1975. The production then made its debut on Broadway, where it enjoyed a successful 64 performance run.

The star of the fully staged production was renown American soprano, Carmen Balthrop, a first prize winner of the Met National Council Auditions and Maryland native who received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland (UMD) and her master’s degree from Catholic University. In addition to her storied career as a performer, Balthrop was also a much loved and respected longtime member of the voice faculty at UMD until her untimely passing just last month. You can learn more about Balthrop’s legacy in this remembrance, and catch a glimpse of her stunning performance in the Houston Grand Opera production in the clip below.

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