Cal Performances :: Music, Dance, Theater :: University of California Berkeley

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Theater, U.S. Premiere!, Desdemona, Toni Morrison, Rokia Traore, Peter Sellars, October 26-29, 2011, Patron Sponsors Deborah and Bob Van Nest and Rockridge Market Hall


Cal Performances brings you the U.S. premiere of an extraordinary theatrical collaboration! In response to Peter Sellars's 2009 Othello, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré, and Peter Sellars join forces to create an intimate and profound conversation from beyond the grave between Shakespeare's Desdemona and Barbary, the woman Shakespeare identifies as the African nurse who raised her. After centuries of colonialism and racism, the two women share stories, songs, determination, and hope for a different future. Morrison has written an unforgettable, incisive, and compelling script, and writing the music and singing the role of Barbary is Rokia Traoré, one of Africa's greatest vocalists. Traoré plays off the griot tradition, transforming and extending classic Malian music into a "truly mesmerizing" (USA Today) sound. Peter Sellars, the creative, penetrating, and influential voice in the world of opera and theater, directs.

Desdemona has been commissioned and is being co-produced by Cal Performances, University of California, Berkeley; Wiener Festwochen, Vienna; Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York; spielzeit'europa I Berliner Festspiele; Barbican, London, Arts Council London, and London 2012 Festival.

Related Events

Fri, Oct 28, 7-7:30 pm
Sat, Oct 29, 7-7:30 pm
Pre-performance talks with director Peter Sellars. Sightlines talks are free to event ticket holders.

The Townsend Center for the Humanities and Cal Performances present Peter Sellars, Toni Morrison (via Skype), and Rokia Traoré. In conjunction with the US premiere of Desdemona at Cal Performances.

Desdemona Takes the Microphone: Toni Morrison and Shakespeare's Hidden Women"
Thu, Oct 27, 5-6:30 pm
Zellerbach Playhouse
A lecture by Peter Sellars, director. Free and open to the public.

Panel Discussion
Dialogues Across Histories, Continents, Cultures
Fri, Oct 28, 12-3 pm
Zellerbach Playhouse

Part 1: Imagining a Shared Space
A conversation with Peter Sellars, director, Toni Morrison, writer (via Skype); Rokia Traoré, musician, Tamara Roberts (Dept of Music), Abdul JanMohammed (English), and Darieck Scott (African American Studies).

Part 2: African Music Speaks
Peter Sellars, director, and Rokia Traoré, musician

The lecture and panel discussion are free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Free tickets will be available at Zellerbach Playhouse 1 hour before each event or contact the Townsend Center:

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)
Thursdays at 3:30-5:30 pm, University Hall
Oct 13 & 27, Nov 10 & 17, Dec 1 & 8
Cost: Membership + $125 course fee
Cal Performances annual collaboration with OLLI @Berkeley begins with select dance, music and theater performance. Students will receive a 50% discount on tickets to select performances. For course description and enrollment procedures, visit or call 510.642.9934.

Program Notes

Program notes are available online. [PDF]


Symposium Talk: Desdemona Takes The Microphone: Toni Morrison and Shakespeare's Hidden Women
As part one of a two-part symposium presented by Doreen B. Townsend Center and Cal Performances, director Peter Sellars discusses giving voice to the unheard characters in Shakespeare's Othello.

Peter Sellars and Desdemona
Peter Sellars talks about the genesis of his new project with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison based on Shakespeare's Othello. The music is composed by African singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré who also stars in the production as the maid Barbary. Cal Performances is co-producer and commission of the project and will present the American premiere October 26-29, 2011. (Length: 2:15; 2011)

Official Desdemona Trailer

Reviews & Articles

San Francisco Classical Voice review: Desdemona's Riveting Multi-Dimensional Truths review: Desdemona Unfurls Othello at Zellerbach Playhouse

New York Times review: 'Desdemona' Talks Back to 'Othello' (includes multimedia)

Los Angeles Times says "this is a great, challenging, haunting and lasting work": Music theater review: Peter Sellars' 'Desdemona' at Berkeley

San Francisco Classical Voice: Desdemona: With Time Comes Change

San Francisco Chronicle: Toni Morrison adds twist to 'Desdemona'

Washington Post: Disenfranchised voices of women, Africans, ring out in Morrison's revision of 'Othello'

San Jose Mercury News: Desdemona gets her day in the sun

Purchase Tickets

Wed, Oct 26, 8 pm
Thu, Oct 27, 8 pm
Fri, Oct 28, 8 pm
Sat, Oct 29, 8 pm
General Questions:

Ticket Office: 510.642.9988

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