Paul Laurence Dunbar’s legacy has been somewhat overlooked by literary historians and critics. This is possibly due to his interest in dialect poetry: in the 1960s in particular, dialect poetry was looked upon by the African-American community as an accommodationist strategy in the face of white American racism. This view is neither historically accurate nor fair to Dunbar; in this spirit, The Mask in the Mirror offers another angle for the interpretation and appreciation of Dunbar’s work.
It is common for contemporary composers to draw from American literature and historical events to create new operatic works. Think Nixon in China (1987) and Doctor Atomic (2005) by John Adams, and Dead Man Walking (2000) and Moby Dick (2010) by Jake Heggie. Yet there are few operas performed or recorded that highlight and explore the African American experience. It’s about time, no?