For Ivan Griffin, history resounds in musical program _lowres

Photo provided -- Ivan Griffin

When bass-baritone Ivan Griffin began considering ideas for a themed musical project, he hit upon the idea of reaching back into his own rich heritage for source material.

The result is “Songs of a People: Music of the African-American Experience,” which will be heard at the Marigny Opera House on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Griffin is a graduate of Southern University and the Eastman School of Music and has sung in Europe and South Africa.

Currently, the singer is on the staff of Xavier University and can be heard on the first recording (on Centaur) of Paul Stuart’s “The Little Thieves of Bethlehem” as one of the Magi.

“ ‘Songs of a People’ came about from a desire to have a concert that is representative of my cultural history, while using various genres of music to do so,” said Griffin, a native of Louisiana.

“The inclusion of art songs, spirituals, opera, musical theater and poetry help to chronicle the journey of the Negro in America from past to present.”

The program will be performed in the deconsecrated Holy Trinity Catholic Church, now the Marigny Opera House.

“It is an acoustically wonderful space,” Griffin said. “It’s a singer’s dream. I also enjoy the intimacy of it. Unlike 2,000 to 3,000-seat halls, it’s large enough to have a bit of physical distance between the audience and performer, yet small enough for the listener to feel a part of the action.”

Griffin will be joined by pianist Michael Borowitz, with Michael Boucree providing a “poetic interlude.” Tenor Alexander Sibley will be a special guest.

Composers heard will include H. Leslie Adams, Charles Brown, R. Nathaniel Dett, Marvin Mills, Dan Shore, Glenn Burleigh, Kirke Mechem and Roger Miller.

Locally, Griffin is a member of OperaCréole and has appeared with the New Orleans Opera Association in “Madama Butterfly,” “Der Vampyr,” “La Bohème” and “Carmen” (opposite tenor Bryan Hymel as Don José).

“I’ve enjoyed my experiences with New Orleans Opera,” he said. “There are two which are most memorable for me, one being ‘Carmen,’ in which I played the role of Zuniga. It was presented in opéra-comique style, where a lot of the recitative was replaced with dialogue. Oddly enough, I had recently taken several courses to brush up on French, not knowing that I’d be offered the role of Zuniga in the production. Having a wee bit of a handle on the language helped tremendously in memorizing the large amounts of dialogue for that character.

“The other most memorable production was ‘La Bohème,’ ” Griffin said. “It was the first time that I had done a production in a major regional house where three of the leads were African-American men and the show was not ‘Porgy and Bess.’ That was a major milestone for me. Alfred Walker, a New Orleans native, played Colline, and Noah Stewart sang the role of Rodolfo.”

In October, Griffin will portray Dr. Grenvil in the NOOA production of Giuseppe Verdi’s beloved “La Traviata,” opening the season with French soprano Gabrielle Philiponet as the French courtesan Violetta Valéry. The opera will be conducted by Robert Lyall and directed by James Marvel.

The Marigny Opera House will continue its season with a “Sunday Musical Meditation” featuring violinist Hannah Yim (Sept. 27), the Marigny Opera Ballet’s world premiere of the ballet “Orfeo” (Oct. 2 and 4), and a concert from the New Orleans-based trio Nutrio (Oct. 21).