Cedar Rapids Opera Hosts Three Juneteenth Events This Weekend
In three free events, CROpera commemorates Juneteenth by honoring Simon Estes and hosting a panel “Does the Color of My Skin Really Matter?”
The Cedar Rapids Opera (CROpera) is joyfully returning to live production this month! They’re saluting Juneteenth, Black culture, Black artists and art in a free, three-day weekend-long celebration. Two programs will showcase spirituals, art songs, and opera selections performed by soprano Whitney Morrison, (Chicago), baritone Sidney Outlaw, (New York), and pianist Pedro Yanez, (Chicago), as well as a one-time unique panel discussion: “Does the Color of My Skin Really Matter?”
The CROpera will be presenting their programs in Iowa City, Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids. One of the major highlights concluding the CROpera’s 2020-2021 season will be the bestowing of internationally acclaimed bass-baritone and Iowa’s own Simon Estes with his own official day. The mayor of the city of Iowa City has declared June 18, 2021 Simon Estes Day. Estes will also receive a 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award at the concert on Friday, June 18 as CROpera pays tribute to Estes for his decades of extraordinary opera performances around the globe, as well as recognize his distinguished humanitarian work worldwide. Estes will also participate in the panel discussion at the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids on June 20.
What is Juneteenth?
If you didn’t learn about Juneteenth in school, its name transpired through a combination of the words June and nineteenth. Juneteenth is one of the oldest known commemorations of the end of slavery in America. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which officially outlawed slavery, on January 1, 1863. Fearing that slaves would run away, many confederate slave owners and confederate soldiers in isolated areas didn’t share the news or allow their slaves to be set free. It was the Union Army’s job to enforce the proclamation. On June 19, 1865, a Union General Army delivered General Order No. 3 to the citizens of Texas, which was a step toward enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation. There is a growing movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday across the country.
To commemorate the holiday this year, CROpera is hosting the following free events:
Iowa City Juneteenth Concert & Estes Award Presentation: June 18 at 7 p.m.
In Iowa City, the Riverside Festival Stage at City Park Roads will have seating and parking available. You may also bring your own lawn chairs for the grassy areas. June 18 in Iowa City is the only time that the Lifetime Achievement Award in Opera will be presented to Iowa's bass-baritone, Simon Estes.
The rain date is Sunday evening, June 20 at 7 p.m., at the Riverside Festival Stage at City Parks Roads in Iowa City.
Waterloo Juneteenth Concert: June 19 at 7 pm
There will be seating and parking available in Waterloo at the Riverloop Amphitheatre and Expo Plaza on June 19 at 7 p.m. Parking is also available on the streets.
Please note: The handicap ramp is located at the main Amphitheatre entrance next to the Phelps Youth Pavilion. (Which is located behind Singlespeed.) The Amphitheatre does have ramps that patrons may take down to the grassy area by the stage, and patrons can stay up on top in the plaza section. Restrooms are also handicap accessible and all handicap parking is marked. Those with mobility issues should plan to bring their own chairs when they attend the June 19 concert in Waterloo.
Waterloo’s Riverloop Amphitheatre has lifted the social distancing requirement. They are requesting that unvaccinated patrons wear masks.
Cedar Rapids Juneteenth Panel Discussion “Does the Color of My Skin Really Matter?: June 20 at 2 p.m.
The African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids will be the site and collaborator with the CROpera for the panel discussion topic: "Does the Color of My Skin Really Matter" The panel comprising of Estes, Morrison, Outlaw, and Yanez will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing BIPOC performing artists (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). The event will be moderated by Dr. Myron McReyolds.
Pre-registration and tickets are required for all CROpera Juneteenth events on June 18, 19, and 20. You must pre-register at all three venues by going to the CROpera’s website at CROpera.org and clicking on the Juneteenth icon.
About Simon Estes
Simon Estes was born and raised in Centerville, Iowa. His grandfather had lived part of his life as a former slave, and his dad was a coal miner. Estes sang in the Centerville church and school choirs and graduated from the University of Iowa. At UI, he had the distinction of being the first Black member in the Old Gold Singers. UI’s vocal professor, Charles Kellis, encouraged Estes to develop his innate talent and love of music, as well as suggested an operatic career.
In 1965, after attending Juilliard for a year, Estes received grants from the NAACP and the New York City Trust Fund. These endowments allowed him to audition for an operatic role in Europe. He won the part of Ramfis in Verdi’s “Aida,” which led to his international début at the acclaimed Deutsche Opera in Berlin. A year later, he went on to be the bronze medal winner at the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. This prompted then U.S. President Lyndon Johnson to invite Estes to perform at the White House. This was the first of his many performances in this notable venue.
In America, only the San Francisco Opera took notice of Estes and hired him for lead characters. It was 10 years before Estes received the distinction of being the first Black performer to present what he considers to be one of his most challenging and élite major roles. He starred as the Dutchman in Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Holländer” presented at Germany’s famed Bayreuth Festival. Estes returned to Bayreuth in 1985 to create a video of his Dutchman role, a performance which continues through today to be held in extraordinarily high esteem.
After years of key role performances in major opera houses all across Europe, in 1981, Estes was finally invited to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. A year later, he appeared in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser.” During his following six seasons at the Met, he sang the leading man in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and appeared as Amfortas in Wagner’s “Parsifal,” Wotan in “Die Walküre,” Wolfram in “Tannhäuser,” Orest in Richard Strauss’ “Elektra,” and Amonasro in Verdi’s “Aida.” He was even cast as Amonasro in Leontyne Price’s final opera performance of “Aida.”
Estes has taught on the music faculties at Boston College, Juilliard, and Wartburg. He currently serves as Iowa State University’s F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Artist in Residence for ISU’s Department of Music and Theatre. Since 2016, he has also acted as visiting professor of music, lecturer, and voice teacher at the Des Moines Area Community College. Three years later DMACC founded The Simon Estes School of Fine Arts. Estes also formed the Simon Estes Music Scholarship, awarding two annual music scholarships to students seeking baccalaureate degrees in voice or choral music at DMACC.
Estes has shaped his life to be more than one of notoriety. He has strived to live his life as a positive role model and by encouraging young people to follow their dreams. He has helped talented students attend Juilliard, he has distributed more than one million dollars in merit-based scholarships through the Simon Estes Educational Foundation in Oklahoma, he established the International Foundation for Children in Switzerland, providing health support for needy youth in Switzerland and Bulgaria, and in 1998-99 he brought underprivileged, yet talented, South African youth to Iowa as part of a Rotary District 6000 event. He enrolled them in Des Moines High Schools and toured with them in the Simon Estes South African Youth Chorus. These amazing actions were just a few of his humanitarian gestures for future generations.
About Whitney Morrison, Soprano
Ms. Morrison started singing church hymns at an early age. She received her bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from Alabama’s Oakwood University. She garnered her master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music. In 2020, she was a National Semifinalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Ahead this season she’ll perform with Marina Abramović at the Greek National Opera Athens in “7 Deaths of Maria Callas.” A newly graduated member of the Ryan Opera Center, Morrison incorporates her Black gospel church heritage with her classical training to create a unique and soulful essence. Her performances have been called “vocally sumptuous” (Chicago Tribune). A new Lyric Opera of Chicago virtual performance reaped shining admiration: “Whitney Morrison was simply astonishing in everything she sang –This is a voice we need to hear live” (Opera News).
Ms. Morrison has selected the music of Barber, Fauré, Debussy, Leslie Adams, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Undine Smith-Moore for her solo portions of the CROpera’s Juneteenth shows. Ms. Morrison, together with baritone, Sidney Outlaw, will also perform operatic duets by Verdi and Gershwin in the CROpera’s Juneteenth concerts.
About Sidney Outlaw, Baritone
Mr. Sidney Outlaw graduated with his bachelor’s in Music Performance from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. He received his Master of Vocal Performance from Juilliard. He has served as a U.S. State Department Arts Envoy in Guinea, performing in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King. He has made his English National Opera and his Metropolitan Opera debuts appearing as Rambo in “The Death of Klinghoffer.” In Israel and Germany, he sang the role of Guglielmo, the soldier, in “Così fan tutte.” He also sang the title roles of Bruch’s “Moses” with the American Symphony Orchestra and Davis’ “Malcom X” with the New York City Opera. He has been called an “opera powerhouse” displaying a “weighty and forthright” sound” (San Francisco Chronicle) and described as a “terrific singer” demonstrating a “deep, rich timbre” (New York Times). Mr. Outlaw will present the songs of Robert Owen, Korngold, and Dorothy Rudd Moore in the CROpera’s Juneteenth performances.
About Pedro Yanez, Pianist
Pedro Yanez currently serves as Chicago Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center coach and pianist. Preceding the Ryan Center, he was the managing director and principal coach for the Florida Grand Opera’s young artist training program. He has also been a coaching staff member at the LA, Dallas, and Arizona Operas, along with Opera Colorado, and spent many summers with the Santa Fe Opera.