dwb (driving while black)
Roberta Gumbel (soprano); New Morse Code
Albany Records TROY 1858 41:04 mins
The setting of dwb (driving while black) is given as ‘TIME: Now/ PLACE: Here’. And indeed, with each passing news cycle the urgency of this intimate and incisive one-woman chamber opera becomes more apparent. That young Black men continue to be murdered by police simply for being Black, and ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ as the libretto puts it, remains one of the most shocking realities of America (and beyond) today.
Relating a Black mother’s increasing dread of the dangers awaiting her adored growing son, the opera is a collaboration between a Black writer and soprano, Roberta Gumbel – here an affecting Singer/Mother – and a white composer, Susan Kander. Alternating domestic ‘Scenes’ with news ‘Bulletins’, the stripped-back action centres around cars: from the strapping of a baby boy into a child-seat, to school-runs, adolescent driving lessons and a devastating police-stop.
The sense of inevitability is all the more horrifying for the lack of visceral description or language. Kander’s inventive, colourful score requires its cello and percussion duo (the enterprising New Morse Code) to occasionally speak roles. It’s a reminder that we each stand witness – and can choose to add our voices in protest.