Spoleto Festival USA: World Premiere

“A broadly American story…and a thoroughly American opera…[with] lush orchestrations” – NPR

Omar is an American masterpiece. Whatever forces that had brought about the tumultuous social and political changes in America during the past two Covid-pandemic years, they have also had a profound and lasting effect in the arts…Omar is a product of such an epochal sea change…The extraordinary story of [Omar Ibn Said] is vividly and powerfully presented on the operatic stage…The music, by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels, has the old-school charm with modern sensibilities – nineteenth-century Negro spirituals and dances intermingle naturally with operatic ariosos, arias and sung recitatives…” – Classical Voice

“…[a] tonal, lushly orchestrated score…” Wall Street Journal

“…Only a musician like Rhiannon Giddens could have created Omar, for which she wrote the libretto and composed in recorded drafts – she sang and accompanied herself – that were then orchestrated by Michael Abels, with an ear for subtle connections and propulsive drama. Their score is a melting pot inspired by bluegrass, hymns, spirituals and more, with nods to traditions from Africa and Islam…[It’s] a sweeping achievement…an unforced ideal of American sound: expansive and ever-changing.” – New York Times

“A hit! Gripping and beautiful.” Atlanta Journal Constitution

“…Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels [created an] astonishingly moving new opera – Omar…The score — to which Giddens apparently contributed melodic lines, the structures of numbers, and the libretto, with Abels expanding the texture to operatic dimensions for a conventional pit orchestra — is also a mixture of things, and wonderfully so.” – San Francisco Classical Voice

“…co-composers Rhiannon Giddens, who also wrote the libretto, and Michael Abels left virtually no skeptics unconvinced, no eyes dry and nobody’s sense of wonder unstirred with [Omar, and created] a universal story about a man’s search for self-understanding and refusal to give in to hatred and despair.” – “Of Note,” WDAV Classical Public Radio

“…Omar is the most important new work to emerge from Spoleto, at least since the Menotti era. It is an important story, told in a way that is gripping and beautiful..the work has ‘good bones.’ It’s a hit.” – Arts ATL

“…Through this powerful, magnificent work of art, [Omar’s] resonant, real-life source material [is] the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said…In the opera, it is Omar’s journey that we take [and it] is based on his own account…The cohesive score, which so movingly, masterfully wrangles all that music into one man’s journey…And as Omar moves, so do the words and music….And for that reason and many more, the clear and present power of Omar to heal a country whose stories are not yet fully told should make this a prominent part of the operatic canon…” – The Post and Courier

Subsequent Performances

“Striking…stunning…imaginative…BLO’s Omar is a prayer answered!” – The Boston Globe

Omar, a new opera co-created by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels, is not just in conversation with history. It brings the past to life…Omar [uses] inventive narrative devices, in the form of characters…but also metaphor, ghosts, and lyricism. The result is a story that is expansive in both scope and depth…It is complemented by an equally robust score, which seamlessly integrates musical influences from across geographic and temporal lines…Omar [is] active, purposeful, and dramaturgically satisfying.” – The New England Theatre Geek


San Francisco Opera’s Omar is an extraordinary new American work…Winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Music, it was composed by folk musician Rhiannon Giddens (score and libretto) and Michael Abels (orchestration), based on the real-life story of Omar ibn Said, a Senegalese writer and scholar who was abducted and sold into slavery in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1800s….

Giddens’ score just about covers the field of American music: blues and gospel, ballad, bluegrass, with riffs of African music produced by North African drums. At Sunday’s opening performance, conductor John Kennedy led the opera orchestra with both passion and precision…Director Kaneza Schaal’s production fires the music admirably.

[Omar features] a strong cast and chorus and brilliant staging, [and] Omar adds up to a memorable adventure in opera, a straightforward treatment of Black culture all too rare until our time…It is rare to see the kind of reception Omar received at Sunday’s opening performance. The full-house audience (rare for a new work) followed the opera carefully, reacting appropriately (also rare), and the standing ovation at the final curtain was long, loud and exuberant. – Caroline Crawford,


Omar is an opera created by MacArthur Fellowship recipient Rhiannon Giddens, and Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy and Grammy-nominated composer Michael Abels…The lynchpin of the work is Omar ibn Said’s autobiography…Here’s a human being whose story we must never forget.

The music was richly textured, full of original sound, instrumentation, rhythms, and excellent story-telling abilities. Harmonies were appealing and accessible despite the angularities and dissonance. It was music that one might emotionally relate to without strain. Never did it lose its connection to folk sound. Giddens…is known for centering her work around American music that has been overlooked or erased, advocating for emphasizing musical origins. The opera made a mark in its feel, for then and now. Michael Abels, Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy and Grammy-nominated composer, worked with Giddens on the opera’s creation, bringing his own originality to the score. The integration of text, story, and sound was rich and fulfilling…The result was a score that was full of happy surprises all throughout.

Omar the opera tells an important and vital story. It aims to be a reckoning and reconciliation between the forces of darkness and light that one hopes for in human beings, and especially in the society of today. A large and eye-catching production, a meaningful one in which much beauty came across the boards. Omar remained energetic and living. –


Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels’s astonishingly moving new opera Omar [is]…the story of Omar ibn Said, an Islamic scholar and writer in early 19th-century Senegal who was captured and sold into slavery in the American South, [and] has proven potent enough to inspire a sustained burst of multifaceted musical creativity and even eloquence…The score — to which Giddens contributed melodic lines, the structures of numbers, and the libretto, with Abels expanding the texture to operatic dimensions for a conventional pit orchestra — is also a mixture of things, and wonderfully so…the overall feeling is that of simplicity and directness in a thoroughly tonal framework…for this is a real folk opera… – San Francisco Classical Voice


The opera Omar…[has] proved to be one of the most exciting 21st century operatic works to be performed so far by the San Francisco Opera…loosely based on the life of the enslaved Muslim, Omar ibn Said, the opera Omar, is the work of two “co-composers,” the multi-talented musicians, Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels. Both have professional backgrounds atypical of virtually all other opera composers. Their wide-ranging experience with diverse musical genres include Abels’ scores for Hollywood films and Giddens’ wide-ranging musical accmplishments, including bluegrass and folk music…Jointly, Giddens and Abels have produced an opera, whose remarkable libretto is matched with beautiful vocal writing and superb, brilliantly rhythmic and melodic orchestration…the opera’s story truly portrays a man who existed, and whose sobering story is one we should know. That Omar’s story is accompanied with a melodious, nicely orchestrated operatic score that is always interesting and often inspiring is a further bonus. –