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Rhiannon Giddens Awarded Pulitzer Prize in Music for Omar

May 8, 2023

Rhiannon Giddens has been awarded the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her opera, Omar, alongside her co-composer Michael Abels.



Premiered on May 27, 2022 at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., an innovative and compelling opera about enslaved people brought to North America from Muslim countries, a musical work that respectfully represents African as well as African American traditions, expanding the language of the operatic form while conveying the humanity of those condemned to bondage.


By Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels

A day after its May 27 premiere at the 2022 Spoleto Festival USA, ‘Omar’ composers Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels discussed the work with CBS News correspondent Martha Teichner in a segment of the Festival’s ‘Conversations with’ series.

What does it mean to tell a story? How do we reckon with the gaps in our history?

These questions animate the North Carolina premiere of Omar, an opera from Southern Futures at CPA Artist-in Residence Rhiannon Giddens and acclaimed composer Michael Abels. This sweeping new work draws inspiration from the 1831 autobiography of Omar ibn Said, beginning long before the West African scholar was forced to board a ship bound for Charleston, South Carolina — the site of his initial enslavement. Pulling from a wealth of sources—including historical texts found in Carolina’s Louis Round Wilson Library—Omar tells a profound story of strength, resistance, and religious conviction in the face of harrowing circumstances. And, according to Giddens, it goes beyond a simple retelling to tackle issues that will resonate with a wide range of contemporary audiences.

Though Said’s memoir ends some 30 years before his eventual death in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Omar transcends bare biographical facts to fully realize the record of his life and his steadfast Muslim faith. The rich, bubbling score combines West African traditions and traditional opera instrumentation to illuminate the lives of Omar ibn Said and those who came into his orbit.

Sung in English with some Arabic; English supertitles.

Omar is co-commissioned and co-produced by Spoleto Festival USA and Carolina Performing Arts at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Carolina Performing Arts’ participation in this project is made possible through the support of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust.

Additional co-commissioners include LA Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. From A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn Said translated with an introduction by Ala Alryyes. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2011 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

— from Carolina Performing Arts’ production page