Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter

Opera by Robert Wilson, Toshi Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Jacqueline Woodson

Premiered on January 26, 2013 in the "Peak Performances" series at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ

Considered one of the most significant American artists of the 20th century, the self-taught Clementine Hunter produced thousands of paintings drawn from her own experiences working and living on a southern plantation.  It was not until her 50s that Hunter made her foray into visual art, yet she painted extensively until just days before her death in 1988 at the age of 101.  

Robert Wilson first met Hunter at the age of 12 when he acquired one of her works, initiating a passionate love for Hunter's style as well as art collecting as a whole.  Wilson acquired many more Hunter pieces throughout her celebrated career and first honored her with his conception of Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter at Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey in 2013.  A vibrant opera, Zinnias traces the life of the beloved Hunter throughout her long and inspiring life. This work marks the second stage major collaboration of Robert Wilson with singer, composer and social activist Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

[Robert Wilson] met [Clementine] Hunter as a child and collects her work. He has lavished on her story the production’s strangest element, a solemn undertow in the imposing person of Sheryl Sutton. A veteran of Mr. Wilson’s early works, Ms. Sutton is billed here as the silent Angel, gliding darkly on the edges of scenes. She spends ‘Zinnias’ in a funereal 19th-century-style black dress, much like the one she wore in Mr. Wilson’s 1971 breakthrough, ‘Deafman Glance.’ ... Bright, charming and tuneful, ‘Zinnias’ is perhaps the first of [Wilson’s] productions that could be happy [on Broadway].
— Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, Jan. 27, 2013

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