• 3(pic).2(ca).3(bcl).3(cbn)/4.3Ctpt.2+btbn.1/timp.3perc/hp.pf(cel)/str (min players)
  • SATB Black Chorus, 32 voices suggested; SATB White Chorus, 40 voices suggested
  • Principal Roles:Mezzo-soprano, Lyric Baritone, Dramatic Soprano, Lyric Baritone; Secondary Roles:Dramatic Tenor, Light Lyric Soprano, Tenor, Lyric Tenor
  • 2 hr 20 min

Programme Note


Music by Richard Danielpour
Libretto by Toni Morrison

Composer note:

More than anything else, Margaret Garner is an opera that reminds us that we all belong to the same human family, and it demonstrates what can happen when we forget this fundamental truth. While slavery has been outlawed in the United States since 1865, its lingering effects have proven over the years that the issues in our country concerning race, class, and the true meaning of freedom are in no way resolved. Visiting Washington D.C. today, one can see memorials to heroes from every war and cause, but there is not one memorial to the people who suffered under the institution of slavery. It is my hope that Margaret Garner will both memorialize and remind us of what we as a society are so easily inclined to forget.

— Richard Danielpour
Cast List:

Principal Roles:
   MARGARET GARNER*: Mezzo-soprano
   ROBERT GARNER*:Lyric Baritone
   CILLA*: Dramatic Soprano
   EDWARD GAINES: Lyric Baritone

Secondary Roles:
   CASEY: Dramatic Tenor
   CAROLINE GAINES: Light Lyric Soprano
   AUCTIONEER, a Professional Salesman: Lyric Tenor [doubles JUDGE I]
   SLAVE CATCHERS**: 8 Tenors, 8 Baritones (divisi: Lyric and Verdi) [from chorus]
   A FOREMAN/THE HANGMAN: non-singing role
   JUDGES**: Tenor, Baritone, Bass-baritone [from chorus; JUDGE I doubles AUCTIONEER]
   MILITIA OFFICERS: 2 non-singing roles
   MARGARET'S CHILDREN: 2 non-singing roles

   THE TOWNSPEOPLE/THE GUESTS***: SATB White Chorus [composer recommends 40 voices]
   THE SLAVES*: SATB Black Chorus [composer recommends 32 voices]

* Although much latitude is possible in casting, Margaret Garner does require that these roles be sung by Black performers.
** These roles can be sung by members of the White Chorus.
*** It is essential that the TOWNSPEOPLE be exclusively White performers. Also, this "White Chorus" must outnumber the "Slave Chorus."
When Edward Gaines acquires his deceased brother’s Kentucky estate, he pledges to let all the slave families on Maplewood Plantation stay together. However, when he takes a special interest in one of the slaves, Margaret Garner, it is not long before her husband Robert is sent away alone to another plantation. One night, Robert sneaks back to Maplewood and attempts to escape with Margaret and their children to the ‘Free State’ of Ohio. They are caught and Margaret murders her children in a crime passionel to spare them the indignity of a life of slavery. Margaret is condemned to death and although she is granted clemency at the last minute, she chooses the freedom of the gallows over life as a slave.


Full score, book I
Full score, book II
Vocal score