Monticello: The Opera

Leroy Aarons 1933-2004, librettist of “Monticello”

Leroy Aarons, writer and journalist, covered events of the tumultuous 60’s and 70’s as chief of the Washington Post’s New York and WestCoast bureaus. Under his newsroom supervision as Executive Editor and Senior Vice-President/News, the Oakland Tribune won a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for its photographic coverage of thedevastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1991 L.A. Theatre Works produced his docudrama,co-written with Jeffery Cowan, “Top Secret: The Battle of the Pentagon Papers”,which was broadcasted nationally on National Public Radio and received the Committee for Public Broadcasting’s coveted Gold Award. His book, “Prayers For Bobbie” (Harper), the true account of a family coping with the suicide of a gay son, was published in 1995 and was nominated for a Lamda Literary Award.He was cofounder and board officer of the Maynard Institute for Journalistic Education (MIJE), the primary source of training for multicultural newsrooms, and was a founder of the National Lesbian and GayJournalists Association (NLGJA). He was visiting professor of journalism at the Annenberg School for Communications at USC, where he founded the Program for the Study of Sexual Orientation Issues in the News.

In 1996 “he came across “Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History” (published in 1974) by UCLA history professor Fawn Brodie, which analyzed the link between (Thomas) Jefferson and (Sally) Hemings. Brodie provided evidence that five of Hemings’ children could have been Jefferson’s,and traced the scandal unleashed in 1802 when a tabloid accused Jefferson, then in the second year of his presidency, of having a slave for his mistress.” (LosAngeles Times)

Aarons was moved to write “Monticello,” a libretto in verse based on these events. At a 2005 memorial service for Roy Aarons, Michael Alexander, executive and artistic director of Grand Performances, made the following remarks: “I only met Leroy Aarons when my wife, Victoria Kirsch,became involved as music director of the premiere performance of“Monticello”. We started to workclosely together when my organization committed itself to producing the firstfully staged version of the opera in 2001. His passion and vision were clear to me from the beginning. His ability to capture essential emotionswith words that lent themselves to musical adaptation was equally clear. The arts provide society with two-way mirrors that help us see ourselves and windows so we can see others. Roy created incredible windows andincredible mirrors with his writings. He helped us see again, with different clarity, the horror and evil of slavery. With his recent work, “Sara’s Diary, September 11” (also with composer Glenn Paxton), he helped us see 9/11in a way that journalists never can. The fact that he was a journalist and spent much of his life involved in providing the “facts” – the news – probably made him a better artist. He knew that“art is a lie in the service of truth”, and few artists have given us clearer pictures of the truths that are critical to our understanding of who we Americans are and of at least two of the landmark elements that shaped the country that we now live in.”