Q&A: Davóne Tines Steals the Stage at the San Francisco Opera

Devone Tines in San Francisco Opera's Girls of the Golden West

Davóne Tines made his San Francisco Opera debut this week and we hope this is the first of many performances to come. Not only was this his big debut but it was the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West. Davóne was hand-selected by Composer John Adams and Director Peter Sellars to play the pivotal role of Ned Peter (a former slave and black cowboy) in their opera about the California Gold Rush. They even customized and composed two arias specifically for his voice to deliver a powerful message that will shake you to your core. We have our eyes on Davóne because his approach to opera is fresh and inspiring. He is also embracing complex characters and creating music of his own music. We are ALL about it!

Recently, we got to sit down with him to talk about his experience working with the music giants of our time and what it’s like developing a character from scratch to then be presented to over 3,000 people in one given performance. Talk about career goals! 🙌  Scroll down to find out more…

Devone Tines in San Francisco Opera's Girls of the Golden West

How is this opera unique from other operas that you’ve done in the past?

I first worked with Peter Sellars on Only the Sound Remains and it was a very intimate production. There were only two singers, one dancer and a chorus of four that sat in the pit. But this is the complete opposite in every imaginable way! It is so grand. He uses every inch of the “opera beast” to tell this meaningful story in a historic yet modern-infused way. There’s not a lot of pageantry like Aida but there’s a ton of force both visually and musically within this opera that comes together to deliver a clear message that’s necessary and relevant to today.

Is it nerve-wracking knowing that you’re premiering a new opera and a new character?

It’s exciting! It’s not nerve-wracking because Ned Peters’ character and what he represents in this opera is important to me. There’s also a personal connection because of my heritage. I’ve actually played an escaped slave before with the American Repertory Theater called “Crossing”. It almost feels like Ned is a continuation of my previous operatic role as Freddie Stowers. It may not make sense chronologically but ideologically it has helped me define my role.

Devone Tines in San Francisco Opera's Girls of the Golden West

Can you tell us about Ned Peter’s character in Girls of the Golden West?

Ned is based on a real person who becomes really close friends with “Dame Shirley”, a young and adventurous writer from the east coast. Although he is a former slave, he is one of the best-dressed characters in the opera. He was a hustler and did a lot of jobs as a free man before heading west.  He has lived long and has seen a lot of different things so his character is also rich with wisdom. Ned wants people to look beyond their differences and live peacefully together.  He wants to be respected as a citizen and as a man.

In the second act, a powder keg of emotions erupts because the white miners realize that they can have the upper hand, so they take it. During their Independence Day celebrations, Ned stands up and sings an aria that says “What is this celebration to me? The Fourth of July is yours, not mine.” His hope is to speak out about his longing for equality but this does not go over well…

Devone Tines in San Francisco Opera's Girls of the Golden West
San Francisco Opera’s production of Girls of the Golden West/Cory Weaver.

How have you been preparing for this special performance?

It has been a very organic process. Learning a new show like this is hard but everyone in the production has been learning it together, including the conductor. Although it’s challenging, it’s a lot of fun! You just kind of have to learn it as you do it. A lot of memory work is done through personal coaching, a ton of repetition and group rehearsals.

It has also been fascinating to delve into the historical source of materials on which Ned is based, including the book “Fugitive Slave in the Gold Rush”. It tells the incredible true-life story of James Williams who actually did escape slavery and hustled his way to California and start multiple businesses,

What was it like for you to finally premier Girls of the Golden West? 

It has felt a like a big, beautiful, challenging tidal wave that has been approaching for three years but now the wave has crested and we get to enjoy the ride!

You can see Davóne perform Ned Turner in San Francisco Opera’s Girls of the Golden West from November 24 thru December 10th.

Click here for tickets!

Click here to read more about Girls of the Golden West from our most recent blog post.

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