The Central Park Five (opera)

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The Central Park Five is a two-act American opera composed by Anthony Davis with libretto by Richard Wesley.[1] It premiered on June 15, 2019, at the Long Beach Opera Company in California. The premiere was directed by Andreas Mitisek and conducted by Leslie Dunner.[2] Davis was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music for the opera on May 4, 2020.[3][4] An earlier, shorter version, titled Five, was premiered in Newark, New Jersey, in 2016 by the Trilogy Company.[5] A staged concert production has been announced by New York City Opera; the date has not been set.[6]


The opera is based on the 1989 incident in which a woman was raped and beaten and eight other people injured in New York's Central Park.[7][8] Five African-American and Hispanic teenagers were convicted of assault and other charges; they served years in prison but were ultimately exonerated.[9] The opera's large cast includes the five teenagers; five of their parents; Matias Reyes, the serial rapist ultimately proven to be the actual perpetrator; the prosecutor; a generic detective referred to as "The Masque"; and even Donald Trump, then a New York real estate developer, who published multiple full page newspaper ads demanding "Bring back the death penalty!"[10]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, June 15, 2019
(conductor: Leslie Dunner)[2][10]
Antron McCray bass-baritone Derrell Acon
Yusef Salaam bass-baritone Cedric Berry
Kevin Richardson tenor Bernard Holcomb
Korey Wise tenor Nathan Granner
Raymond Santana tenor Orson Van Gay
Donald Trump tenor Thomas Segen
District Attorney mezzo-soprano Jessica Mamey
The Masque baritone Zeffin Quinn Hollis
Raymond's Father and Matias Reyes bass-baritone Babatunde Akinboboye
Antron's Father tenor Ashley Faatoalia
Antron's Mother and Kevin's mother soprano Joelle Lamarre
Yusef's Mother mezzo-soprano Lindsay Patterson


Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times said the premiere production offered "musical excellence, with a strong cast, an orchestra that could cook and viscerally stunning conducting from Leslie Dunner". He added that the acting provided "moments of intense drama" and the "supercharged" score created "tension, terror, dismay and, in the most revealing moments, tenderness and hope".[11]

Gordon Williams, writing for Opera Wire, called it "an incredibly effective presentation" of "a powerful work that shines a spotlight on an important event", describing it an ensemble piece with a powerful libretto and a strong cast.[2]


The Pulitzer Prize committee cited the work as "a courageous operatic work, marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration, that skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful".[12]

Composer Davis commented, "I'm excited, thrilled and honored that this work has been recognized this way," adding "it’s exciting for me that you can create political work that has an impact and speak to issues in our society. I’ve done my career creating political works, and I never thought I would ever get a Pulitzer."[10]


  1. ^ Pulitzer Prize: Colson Whitehead wins again for 'The Nickel Boys' – USA Today
  2. ^ a b c Williams, Gordon (June 30, 2019). "Long Beach Opera 2018–19 Review: The Central Park Five". Opera Wire. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  3. ^ The Central Park Five, by Anthony Davis – The Pulitzer Prizes
  4. ^ 'Central Park Five' composer Anthony Davis wins the Pulitzer Prize for Music – Yahoo News
  5. ^ Cooper, Michael (May 30, 2019). "This Summer, Opera Grapples With Race". New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  6. ^ "OPERA NEWS – New York City Opera Announces Plans to Present World Premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Staged Concert of Anthony Davis's The Central Park Five Next Spring". Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  7. ^ Farber, M. A. (July 17, 1990). "'Smart, Driven' Woman Overcomes Reluctance". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  8. ^ "Youths Rape and Beat Central Park Jogger". The New York Times. April 21, 1989. ISSN 0362-4331.
  9. ^ "A Crime Revisited: The Decision; 13 Years Later, Official Reversal in Jogger Attack". The New York Times. December 6, 2002. ISSN 0362-4331.
  10. ^ a b c Varga, George (May 5, 2020). "UCSD professor Anthony Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for fiery opera 'The Central Park Five'". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  11. ^ Swed, Mark (June 17, 2019). "Review: Anthony Davis' opera 'The Central Park Five' goes where Netflix doesn't dare". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  12. ^ Tsioulcas, Anastasia (May 4, 2020). "Anthony Davis Wins Pulitzer Prize For His Opera 'The Central Park Five'". NPR. Retrieved May 5, 2020.