“Queen Moremi” is a Multimedia Folk Opera

Friday, April 18, 2014 - 9:00am
Boyeoluwatito Fakoya (Amherst ’14, shown) and Sey Torkornoo ’15 share the title role in Queen Moremi.

Queen Moremi, an African folk opera to be performed on campus April 26 and 27, is a multimedia production unlike traditional opera.

“When most people think of operas they think of loud voices and a woman with a very strong soprano voice,” says Sey Torkornoo ’15, who plays the queen in one of two performances while Boyeoluwatito Fakoya (Amherst ’14) plays the role in the other. “This has music and dance and poetry all mixed in one,” Torkornoo says.

Set in the ancient city Ile-Ife in the Yoruba region of Nigeria, the production tells the story of the brave Queen Moremi, who saved her people from being conquered by invaders from a neighboring community.

“It’s a compelling story of a woman who decided to step in and save her community when everyone else seemed helpless,” says professor Bode Omojola, the Five College ethnomusicologist who staged and directed the opera. “I thought it would resonate with the Mount Holyoke community,” he says, adding that he also believes it has appeal for the general public as “a celebration of African culture.”

Performances are at 8 pm April 26 and at 2 pm April 27 in the Rooke Theatre. Tickets are $5 general admission and $3 for seniors and students. Fakoya is scheduled to play the title role on Saturday, with Torkornoo in the part on Sunday.

The cast, which consists of students enrolled in Omojola’s course African Folk Opera in Theory and Practice, will be joined by Nigerian performers Bisi Adeleke, a master drummer, choreographer Oyebimpe Davis, and Rotimi Hundeyin, who will play the king. The performers will speak in the Yoruba language, but the program will contain an English summary of each scene.

Torkornoo, an architectural studies major with a minor in theatre arts, is from Accra, the capital of Ghana. She says she comes from a family of strong women—her mother is a judge—and so the character comes naturally to her. The culture depicted in the opera reminds her of home, especially when family members break into song while telling stories.

She grew up speaking English and the local dialects Fante and Twi. But learning to speak Yoruba was different. “The language has a lot to do with intonations,” she says.

A translator will share the stage in one scene where the poetry is especially important, but otherwise, Torkornoo says, “I’m hoping that the acting will really show people the meaning.”

—By Ronni Gordon