The true testament to the greatness of any culture is not in the might of its economy, the size of its population, or the height of its tallest buildings. Rather, the greatest measure of any culture is the arts and entertainment offered to its people. By this we do not mean the television shows, movies, and video games, but the classical arts that persist over centuries and help connect the past with the present.
Many millions of people across the United States and around the world view New Orleans as one of America’s greatest party cities. Behind the impression left on visitors by Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, and Cajun food is the true soul of the Creole culture in Louisiana. New Orleans based Opera Créole provides all who hear their wonderful music with a true sense of Creole culture and art.
The Opera Creole consists of nine full time artists and musicians, many of whom were born and raised in and around New Orleans. Not only were many of these wonderfully talented artists born and raised in Louisiana’s Creole culture, they allowed themselves to be separated from that culture.
Most of the artists in the opera chose to remain close to home, earning Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees in the arts from colleges throughout New Orleans and greater Louisiana. The city of New Orleans has long been known for its place in the history of jazz music. Its nickname the Big Easy came about from the ease with which jazz musicians were able to find work in the city during the first half of the 20th century.
But music and the city of New Orleans go even deeper than its connection with jazz. As an art form, jazz was born of the musical history of Louisiana’s Creole people. Since the 19th century, Creoles in and around New Orleans brought together the sounds of Africa, Spain, Haiti, and native Louisiana cultures to give rise to jazz.
It is with that history in mind that Opera Créole continues to work to keep the musical history of the region alive. The group strives to research and perform lost or rarely heard pieces from the history of opera and jazz. Their sounds speak to the heart of Creole culture, and can be heard not only in Louisiana but in music halls around the globe.
Givonna Joseph is the founder and director of Opera Creole. Ms. Joseph is a native of New Orleans who, in addition to earning an arts degree from Loyola University, has served the city of New Orleans and the Creole culture of Louisiana for years as a standard bearer of the regions music and history. One would be remiss to speak about Opera Créole without mentioning its world class pianist Wilfred Delphin. Mr. Delphin not only serves as a pianist with the group, but is also the group’s rehearsal coach.
Few would describe artists from the opera genre, or any pianist for that matter, as a rockstar. Whether the title fits or not, Wilfred Delphin is the piano world’s version of a rockstar. Over a long, distinguished career he has proven time and again his skill and ability along with a dedication to the art form.
Mr. Delphin is well known by fans of the genre as one half of the dynamic piano duo of Delphin and Romaine. Along with his partner Edwin Romaine, Mr. Delphin debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1977. That performance launched a career for the duo that would see them tour the world with stops across the United States and in cities across South America, Europe, and Asia. Mr. Delphin even performed a solo performance in the East Room of the White House for then President, Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Delphin is perhaps more accurately referred to as Dr. Delphin. In addition to earning a Doctorate of Musical Arts, Dr. Delphin was a teacher at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Music (retired 2004), earned the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award from the South Carolina Arts Commission, and is part of the “World’s Best” promotion from Baldwin Pianos.
Outside of his musical endeavours, Dr. Delphin has worked hard to give back to communities around the globe. Following his retirement from SIUC, Dr. Delphin volunteered in the United States Peace Corps where he served in the West African country of Senegal for several months. He eventually returned from Senegal to New Orleans to assist in the recovery efforts following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
Currently, in addition to his duties with Opera Créole, Dr. Delphin serves as a faculty member and artist-in-residence at his alma mater Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans.
In addition to representing the Creole culture and the music scene in New Orleans, “America’s First City of Opera,” the Opera Créole can be found at a variety of performance venues across the state and country. Members occasionally perform solo roles in various New Orleans Opera productions (Madama Butterfly, Samson et Dalila, and Salome for example). The group also performs at historical concerts, private functions, conventions, and educational programs for children.