The Central Park Five, an opera by composer Anthony Davis and librettist Richard Wesley, has been awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Premiered in June 2019 at California’s Long Beach Opera, the opera is set in New York in 1989 and is inspired by real-life events. The story follows five young boys, between the ages of 14 and 16, who were wrongly convicted of raping a white female jogger in Central Park, before being exonerated 13 years later through DNA evidence.
The opera was praised by the jury for its ‘powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration that skilfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful.’ With elements of music typically heard during 1980s New York, the score highlights dissonances in the vocals and harmonies and features powerful driving rhythms which propel the drama forward.
Davis is no stranger to addressing issues of race relations and adapting real-life events for the stage. His best-known operas are X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, based on the life of civil rights leader Malcolm X, and Amistad, about the case of an 1938 slave mutiny on a Spanish ship.
Although primarily known for his operas, Davis has also composed symphonies, as well as chamber and choral music. He is also a jazz pianist.
The other finalists for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Music was Alex Weiser’s and all the days were purple, a song cycle for voice, piano, percussion and string trio based on Yiddish and English poems, and Michael Torke’s Sky: Concerto for Violin, which features bluegrass elements.
The trailer for The Central Park Fiv's premiere performance
Listen to finalist Alex Weiser's and all the days were purple
Listen to finalist Michael Torke’s Sky: Concerto for Violin