SATURDAY 8 JULY at 7:30 pm

Our new world premiere gospel/jazz opera A Gathering of Sons takes us on a journey through the lives of a young Black man, a white police officer, parents of a newborn child, and a collection of spirits who watch over the world. With a score by Dwayne Fulton set to a libretto by Tameka Cage Conley, and stage direction by Mark Clayton Southers, A Gathering of Sons is a story of love and redemption. 

A Gathering of Sons cast

A confrontation with history and the way it breathes through the present, this poetic premiere is a conversation on our biases and how we heal after tragedy. It is an eye towards freedom and the work our communities need to do to reach it. Full of magic, fear, hope, pain, and, still, an even more powerful love.

A Gathering of Sons is the second new work in PFO’s “Music that Matters” series of commissioned works, which began with the development of A New Kind of Fallout (2015), inspired by the life and work of Pittsburgh-born scientist Rachel Carson.

Meet the Creative Team
Immediately following the opening night performance on Saturday 1 July, members of the creative team, including librettist Tameka Cage Conley, composer Dwayne Fulton, and stage director Mark Clayton Southers, will speak from the stage about the creative journey that led to A Gathering of Sons. Please join the conversation.


Critical Acclaim

“We Are One,” the triumphal march that solidifies the theme of A Gathering of Sons, leaves the audience thrilled in their bones. [Read full review...]
Pittsburgh City Paper

I’ve watched Tosca throw herself off of the parapet.  I’ve watched Mimi linger and die.  I’ve witnessed Carmen’s heartbreak, and the Flying Dutchman’s torment.  I’ve seen dozens of tragic operas.  None have ever moved me to tears.  I openly cried more than once during A Gathering of Sons. [Read full post...]
—Three Rivers Community Foundation blog

Terrific...riveting...It deals with the spiritual aspects of justice and retribution in a nation where the balance between the races may be inherently unfair. [Read full review...]
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The new opera A Gathering of Sons, which is having its world premiere at Pittsburgh Festival Opera under the direction of Mark Clayton-Southers, addresses one of the most pressing issues of our current moment: the tragedy of police violence against African-American men. [Read full review...]
The Pittsburgh Tatler

A word to future audiences who might shy away because they don’t particularly care for opera: the influences of jazz, R & B and gospel make this work stand apart from the stereotyped conception of that genre of music. [Read full review...]
Pittsburgh in the Round


Production Information

Sung in English with projected titles in English

Running time: 2 hours with one intermission

Strong language is used in this production




Production Credits

Music   Dwayne Fulton
Libretto    Tameka Cage Conley
Director    Mark Clayton Southers
Conductor/Orchestrator   Robert Frankenberry
Fight Choreographer   Randy Kovitz
Pianist   Charles Rowe
Scenic Design   Hank Bullington
Projection Design   Hank Bullington
Costume Design   Tony Sirk 
Lighting Design   Bob Steineck
Hair and Makeup Design   Jina Pounds
Sound Design   Julia Black
Stage Manager   Michele Lee Betts 
Assistant Stage Manager   Ericka Royster 



Victoria   Denise Sheffey-Powell
Violet   Adrianna Cleveland 
Lockdown   Robert Gerold
Victor   Terriq White
City   Miles Wilson-Toliver
Freedom   Austin Vassar Keys 
Doctor   Jenne Carey
Glock   Kevin Maynor 
Great Father   Leslie Howard 
The Speaking Earth   Demareus Naomi Cooper 
The Sky That Can't Stop Seeing   Charlene Canty 
The Waters   Michele Williams 
The Blood   Rodolfo Giron
Medic 1   Lesley Baird 
Medic 2   Sam Lothard 
The Sons (Chorus):   William Banks
    Diego DelValle
    Kenneth Glover
    Jaymes Hall
    Royce Hearn
    Rob Pruitt
    Bryan Keys
    André J.C. Southers
    Joseph Thompson


The Story

Part I
On a cold street, an officer believes he takes a young Black man’s life in secret. But the cover of night does not conceal. The police officer, Lockdown, steals something precious from the man, Victor. From above, a collection of Spirits observes this act. The Sons, as they are called, appeal to The Speaking Earth, The Sky That Can’t Stop Seeing, The Blood, and The Waters to intercede on their behalf on Earth. As Victor dies his brother, City, welcomes his first child into the world with his wife. City and Victor’s mother, Victoria, learns the news of both of her sons. The police officer, Lockdown, tries to justify what he has just done, but is met face to face by his closest companion.


Part II
Victoria confesses to City what has happened to his brother Victor. Lockdown, still grappling with what he has done, is confronted by the Spirits. They accost him and he collapses, broken, having realized for the first time what he has done. An enraged City finds Lockdown back on the street. City draws his gun. A tragedy follows, but fate is altered by unseen hands.


Director's Note

Seeking Unity through Powerful Storytelling
Working on a social justice piece is always a heavy process. Aligning your inner emotions to find that centered space to work from is the most difficult part.

Much like discussing race, our emotions dictate our actions. More times than not the masses stay silent. That's not the case inside of A Gathering of Sons. Here, our characters are both in the flesh and of the spirit world, and they each have the opportunity to express themselves fully.

I'm humbled to be paired up with our librettist Dr. Tameka Cage-Conley and composer Dwayne Fulton. Two artist that I admire. Artistic Director Jonathan Eaton and his staff have put in place a platform for each of us to collaborate to tell this powerful story of truth, redemption, atonement, and healing.

It's been an exciting journey thus far, I hope that you enjoy your ride through this and I pray that you take away something from this work. Whether it's family unity, community unity, world unity, justice, or merely gaining a better understanding and appreciation of life.



Meet the Composer

Dwayne Fulton


Dwayne Fulton is the minister for music at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church. He conducts one of the great gospel choirs of this country. In past years, he was the musical director for Opera Theater's production of Gospel at Colonus in 2011, and the composer for Bridal Suite in 2012 and Gospel Suite in 2013.

Fulton is an accomplished pianist and producer, having accompanied such greats as Kirk Franklin and Keith Sweat. He orchestrated and provided backup groups for artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Barry Manilow. His music and choir have been featured on CBS for Easter celebrations.

Watch the Mt Ararat Baptist Church Choir in Dwayne Fulton's "Crown Him"


Tameka Cage Conley


Dr. Tameka Cage Conley is one of Pittsburgh’s rising star authors. She is a literary artist who writes poetry, fiction, plays, and essays. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in poetry. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships, residencies, and awards, including the Eben Demarest Trust Grant in support of her novel-in-progress, This Far, By Grace. She received the doctoral degree in English in 2006 from Louisiana State University, where she was a recipient of the Huel Perkins Doctoral Fellowship. In 2010, she received the August Wilson Center Fellowship in literary arts. Her first play, Testimony, was produced at the Center in May 2011. She has now been invited to be a fellow in the celebrated Iowa Writers Workshop.

Learn More about Tameka
Read her profile from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Person of interest: Tameka Cage Conley, poet and playwright" and Three Poems by Tameka Cage Conley




Project Support

The series of community workshops that form the developmental process for A Gathering of Sons are made possible, in part, by generous support from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Highmark logo


Performances of A Gathering of Sons are made possible through the support of Marjorie and William Cadwallader.

The commissioning of A Gathering of Sons is made possible through the support of Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, a program of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

pgh foundation logo


Additional support for A Gathering of Sons is provided by:

  • The Pittsburgh Foundation
  • The Heinz Endowments
  • Opportunity Fund
  • W.I Patterson Charitable Fund


Audience engagement and outreach activities for A Gathering of Sons are supported by a grant from OPERA America's Opera Fund.

opera america logo

The Opera Fund provides technical and financial support to OPERA America Professional Company Members and their partners as part of North American effort to enhance the quality, quantity and creativity of new opera and music theater.

The Opera Fund, launched by the National Endowment for the Arts, is funded by the Helen F. Whitaker Fund, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation, Lee Day Gillespie, and Lloyd and Mary Ann Gerlach.