Minnesota Opera's newest production shines spotlight on Black composer

Joseph Bologne created the opera "Anonymous Lover" which is now showing at the Ordway Theater. (FOX 9)

In "Anonymous Lover," which premiered at the Ordway Theater this weekend, a recent widow is pursued by a secret suitor.

But in addition to performing in front of a live audience for the first time since the pandemic, this rom-com also marks the first time the Minnesota Opera has produced the main stage show written by a Black composer.

"It's past due that we have done this work. It's both a moment we are celebrating and shaking our heads going 'how has it taken this long?'," said Ryan Taylor, the president, and general director of the Minnesota Opera.

The opera was created by Joseph Bologne, a French composer in the late 1700s, who was born in the Caribbean to a French nobleman and a slave he fell in love with.

Bologne grew up in France where he became a champion fencer, a virtuoso violinist, and a celebrated composer, sort of like a Beyonce of his time, who eventually taught Marie Antoinette how to play the piano.

"He was a jack-of-all-trades, and he was excellent at everything that he applied himself to quite a character," said Taylor.

Bologne is sometimes referred to as the "Black Mozart" but he was more established and famous at the time than his contemporary. 

But his name and most of his work have been forgotten by time because when the queen wanted to make him the head of the Paris Opera, 3 singers were offended at the idea of reporting to a person of color.

"That started a chain of events where he was no longer in the court's favor. Things began to fall apart because of that racism," said Taylor.

The Minnesota Opera is performing Bologne's comedy as part of a push to make its productions more diverse and inclusive.

So it can sing the praises of a wider range of creators and a broader audience can see their stories on stage.

"There are plenty of pieces of repertoire that we know and love, and we will continue to present those, but I want to balance them well, so we are all on a journey of learning and sharing and expanding our horizons," said Taylor.