Clarence and Anita
Music by Brian Current
Libretto by Anton Piatigorsky
About the work
The opera transpires over the summer and fall of 1991, when Clarence Thomas was nominated to the US Supreme Court, and was subsequently confirmed by the Senate. In the most contentious and dramatic confirmation hearings of the modern era, Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, a former colleague and employee. Thomas, in turn, accused her of lying. As the Senate investigated both charges, and as the media reported and magnified each salacious detail, a cultural war ignited in the United States, illuminating the changing statuses of African-Americans, and of women of all races, as well as the nation’s latent fears around those shifts. In retrospect, the event was the key beginning of our present cultural soul-searching on the enormous issue of sexual harassment.
In the hearings, a wounded Judge Thomas declared the Senate’s investigation a ‘high-tech lynching’. He claimed that the country would never allow an independent thinking black man to rise to power without being attacked. Professor Hill countered by offering straight-forward and powerful testimonial, and asking why she would expose herself to embarrassment and public abuse if the charges weren’t true. Some senators and reporters, exposing their deep misogyny, accused Hill of consciously setting out to destroy a respected man, and publicly worried that men in general would not be able to protect themselves from plotting and powerful women in the new America.
The opera focuses primarily on the high emotions and personal stories of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. It does so by drawing upon the latent resentments and bigotry of the time, the historical struggles against racism and for women’s rights, and the complex interaction of all these forces in this one particular incident.
We, the creators, strongly believe Anita Hill’s accusation was true, and the opera will offer credence to her claim. However, the story does not intend to demonize Clarence Thomas. For this opera to be a great work of art, both Thomas’s and Hill’s high emotions, their genuine fears and aspirations, and the unique conflicts they faced in America in the early 1990s must be explored in all their complexity, regardless of questions of guilt. Both Hill and Thomas suffered terribly in the hearings. Their awful, operatic emotions were part of a cultural problem that still rages on today.
There are two main characters, Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, and a number of principal roles—key senators, journalists, family members, friends. A small chorus plays additional reporters, senators and Justices of the Supreme Court.
Date of composition:
ABOUT THE COMPOSER
Brian Current writes music that is brimming with energy – sometimes with the propulsive rhythms of so-called minimalist music, sometimes with a more delicate sense of flux, but almost always with a sense of motion and playfulness about the treatment of time and texture. These features have won him numerous honours, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Barlow Prize for Orchestral Music, and Italy’s Premio Fedora for his new chamber opera Airline Icarus.