Fort Worth Opera Presents Regional Premiere of Contemporary American Opera, dwb (driving while black)

Modern one-act opera offers transformative resonance, audience engagement opportunity after every performance.
(Fort Worth, Texas) This February, Fort Worth Opera presents the regional premiere of a modern American one-act opera, dwb (driving while black). With exquisite music, intense vocals and lyrics that range from the universal (“Don’t make me stop this car!”) to the painfully specific (“You are not who they see”), dwb (driving while black) presents 16 years of a Black mother’s hopes and fears for her son. As her child grows up and learns to drive, the Mother is haunted by visions of all the ways this ritual of adulthood could go wrong for her “beautiful brown boy” in a society plagued by racism and inequality.
Fort Worth Opera General & Artistic Director Angela Turner Wilson spoke of her choice to present this work as part of the company’s 2023–2024 season, “If you think about the operas we consider traditional today, many brought pointed social commentary to their debuts. Verdi, Puccini, and even Mozart imbued their most beloved works with narratives of class, race, and culture. Those works became classics because art speaks to all audiences, and great work bridges all divides. We hope that the whole community here in Fort Worth will join us for this new classic, to experience with us the transformative power of great art.”
Created by Susan Kander (composer) and Roberta Gumbel (librettist), dwb (driving while black) evolved as a dream collaboration between friends and colleagues. In 1996, soprano Gumbel created the lead role of Harriet Tubman in Kander’s opera, Never Lost a Passenger. Since then, the two have collaborated frequently as composer and singer, but never before as co-creators. The collaborative project that would become dwb (driving while black) began after Gumbel mentioned her son’s driving lessons, revealing a crushing vulnerability — the reality of “the talk” that Black mothers give their sons as they approach manhood. As the project developed and took increasing inspiration from Gumbel’s life, it moved beyond a chamber music song cycle and took on fully operatic narrative sweep and importance.
Composer Kander spoke of her hopes during the development process: “We wanted to create a piece that provides a resonant experience of what it’s like to be these very real people: a particular Black mother, a particular child, with their laughter and tears like any family. Because that’s how things get better, by truly seeing and understanding each other. There’s a recurring phrase in the opera, ‘You are not who they see… you are not who they see.’ When Roberta sent me that phrase, I knew it was the heart of the story. We see people who are not ourselves as ‘them,’ but ‘them’ is always a real person, another individual.”The Fort Worth Opera production of dwb (driving while black) marks only the second time that librettist Gumbel will not be performing as the Mother, with a new soprano taking on the emotionally and technically challenging role. “This is a personal work for me,” said Gumbel. “And I’m thrilled and intrigued to watch it take on new contours as it draws inspiration from another strong Black woman with her own unique voice and experiences.”
In the Fort Worth Opera production, Ayvaunn Penn directs with Marsha Thompson (soprano) performing as the Mother. Soprano Thompson has been recognized in the New York Times for her “warm, agile soprano” and “stellar performance” as Violetta in the New York Grand Opera Company performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s, La Traviata. Recent performances by Thompson include the title roles in Verdi’s Aida and Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, and as Bess in George Gershwin’s American opera, Porgy and Bess.
The score and staging are a unique element of dwb (driving while black), with solo vocalist Thompson joined onstage by two instrumental performers: Cremaine Booker (cello) and David Verin (percussion). All three performers take part in the opera narrative, with the cello and percussion providing counterpoint “voices” onstage — serving as a Greek chorus of sorts, while adding poignancy and dramatic punctuation to the piece.
As a special bonus, Fort Worth Opera invites ticket holders to join key members of the creative team — including composer Kander and librettist Gumbel — in talkback discussions after every performance. These sessions will be moderated by TCU faculty members Dr. Stacie McCormick and Dr. Brandon Manning.
Encouraging audience members to take part in these panel discussions, General & Artistic Director Wilson said, “dwb (driving while black) is more than an opera: it is a celebration of the human experience, an exploration of emotions, and a testament to the enduring power of art. We want to thank the TCU community for assisting us in putting together these amazing panels and we hope that everyone in the audience joins us to share their own transformative stories, thoughts and feelings.”
dwb (driving while black)
A one act opera by Susan Kander and Roberta Gumbel. Ayvaunn Penn directs with Marsha Thompson (soprano), Cremaine Booker (cello), and David Verin (percussion).
50 minutes, no intermission
Sung in English with English supertitlesPlease plan for an additional 60 minutes to engage in the talkback and panel discussion post show.Friday,
Feb. 16 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 pm
Van Cliburn Concert Hall at TCU
2900 W Lowden St / 2805 S University Dr, Fort Worth TX
Saturday, February 24 at 2:00 pm
Kimbell Art Museum
333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Fort Worth TX


Join the movement with The Metro Report: Empower yourself and stay informed about the inspiring journeys of women and minorities in business.

Discover More