Rhiannon Giddens and orchestral composer Michael Abels have been awarded the Pulitzer in Music for the opera Omar.
According to Dig!, the Pulitzer Prize committee called Omar “an innovative and compelling opera about enslaved people brought to North America from Muslim countries, a musical work that respectfully represents African as well as African American traditions, expanding the language of the operatic form while conveying the humanity of those condemned to bondage.”
The opera, the outlet adds, is about a real person, Omar ibn Said, and is based on his autobiography A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar ibn Said, written in 1831, mostly in Arabic. The work was translated into English by Ala Alryyes and published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2011.
The other finalists in the Music category included Monochromatic Light (Afterlife) by Tyshawn Sorey and Perspective by Jerrilynn Patton.
“There’s a million different ways to tell Omar’s story, and I hope that that happens. I hope this is not the last that we hear of Omar ibn Said. He deserves as many treatments as a lot of other American stories,” Giddens told LA Opera last year. “I chose a way through it that made sense to me as an American, North Carolinian, banjo player of mixed race, and I’m very clear about that. But in my own way, I really tried to make his words speak as much as possible. There’s a triumph in Omar and that’s the important piece of digging into this history, particularly for people of the African diaspora.”
The Pulitzer Prize for music has been awarded since 1943. Previous recipients include Kendrick Lamar for DAMN. (2018), Ornette Coleman for Sound Grammar (2007), Wynton Marsalis for Blood on the Fields (1997), Morton Gould for String Music (1995) and Aaron Copland for Appalacian Spring (1945).
Giddens is most famous as a folk musician but trained as a classical singer and has worked in opera in recent years, hosting the podcast Aria Code and performing works by John Adams.