Opera Co-Commissioned and Co-Produced by Carolina Performing Arts Wins 2023 Pulitzer Prize in Music

Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels break new ground with the story of Omar ibn Said

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – May 15, 2023) – Omar, an opera from Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) Artist-in Residence Rhiannon Giddens and acclaimed composer Michael Abels, has won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in music. This marks the first time a work co-commissioned and co-produced by CPA has won this distinguished national honor. 

On February 25 and 26, sold-out audiences watched the North Carolina premiere of Omar as part of CPA’s 22-23 season. The work draws inspiration from the life of Omar ibn Said, a West African scholar who spent over half a century enslaved to a prominent North Carolina family. Upon his death, Said left behind a collection of Arabic-language documents, including an 1831 autobiography that informs much of the opera’s content. Some of these materials reside in the Louis Round Wilson Library on the University of North Carolina campus.

“We’re thrilled that our support and investment in this opera, in collaboration with Spoleto Festival USA and the many opera houses now staging it, helped bring this Pulitzer-winning work to life,” said Alison Friedman, the James and Susan Moeser Executive and Artistic Director at CPA. “Omar is the result of countless hours of cross-disciplinary research, and the state of North Carolina should be proud of UNC’s role in nurturing such an innovative production.”

Ahead of the February performances, CPA partnered with organizations across the community to foster discussions about the social, political, economic and historical context of the opera. The partner organizations included UNC Press, MDC and the UNC African Studies Center, among others. Hundreds of community members attended these events and participated in these ongoing conversations, including a group of area high schoolers.

“With the help of local teachers, we brought in 130 students to attend a dress rehearsal hosted by Rhiannon Giddens herself,” said Amanda Graham, Associate Director of Engagement at CPA. “The students saw how the music that began on Giddens’ banjo transformed into the foundation for an entire opera. It felt incredible to share that process with the community.”

In the wake of the Pulitzer announcement, Giddens hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. On May 9, she announced the forthcoming release of her new solo album, “You’re the One.” She is also embarking on the second year of her three-year residency with Southern Futures at CPA. In this role, she’ll continue to pull from the past to tell hidden stories about the South.

“CPA is committed to the research, commissioning and production of new work that helps to tell untold stories of our regional history and spur audiences to ask and observe how art can build bridges,” said Friedman. “To see a work supported by Southern Futures win a Pulitzer Prize shows that we’re on the right path. Work produced on UNC’s campus with local roots is making a global impact.”


About Carolina Performing Arts 

Carolina Performing Arts is the leading multi-arts presenter in the American South, housed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Our public service mission is to spark curiosity and inspire members of our campus and community to discover and more deeply engage with the world. We collaborate with artists from across the globe — the Bolshoi Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Tony Bennett, Big Freedia and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra to name a few — to create performing arts experiences in partnership with our community. In under two decades, CPA has presented thousands of performances and master classes by more than 450 artists from 56 countries and territories, commissioned 69 new works and hosted 48 world and U.S. premieres. Our performances, outreach and campus partnerships have reached hundreds of thousands of patrons, students and faculty. Students comprise 25% of our annual audience on average — one of the highest percentages in the nation among our peer major university presenters. We also open our venues to others to explore, create and celebrate their own work.

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill   

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 112 master’s, 66 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools, including the College of Arts & Sciences. Every day, faculty, staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s more than 355,786 alumni live in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Territories and 147 countries. More than 189,842 live in North Carolina.

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