"I Can't Breathe"

Music by: Leslie Savoy Burrs
Libretto by: Brandon J. Gibson

World Premiere


Marble City Opera

Knoxville, TN

February 24-26, 2022

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"I Can't Breathe" is an opera that explores themes of grief, loss, love, identity, and hope. It was inspired by and written in the wake of repeated instances of fatal police brutality perpetrated against African Americans. The stories told are NOT dramatizations of any real-life incident. Instead, we meet six fictional characters, each named for a different archetype, from different walks of life. Lives that in one way or another are forever changed when innocent interactions with law enforcement go wrong. The opera highlights how good manners, a clean-cut appearance, advanced education, and compliance with orders too often don't protect people of color from being viewed as threats and treated as inherently dangerous. Six vignettes portray a non-monolithic reflection of the African American experience and ultimately seek to answer the question, "How many more"? 

The Knoxville world premiere is being produced by Marble City Opera in partnership with the Carpetbag Theatre, Inc. and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The production is led by an all-African American creative team comprised of the Carpetbag Theatre, Inc.'s Executive Artistic Director, Jonathan Clark as stage director; Production Manager for Opera Huntsville, Sierra Hammond as assistant director; as well as Garrett McQueen, Executive Producer/Host of "Trilloquy" podcast as conductor, and Brandon Coffer as music director and rehearsal pianist. 

Marble City Opera commissioned the opera and will host the world premiere. By invitation of MCO Founding Executive Artistic Director, Kathryn Frady three other companies, Opera Columbus, Cleveland Opera Theatre, and Pacific Opera Project, negotiated an agreement that will allow each respective company to present separate productions of the opera following the Knoxville world premiere.

World Premiere Cast

Jayme Alilaw, soprano, as “the Mother”

Breyon Ewing, tenor, as “the Athlete”

Jacob Lay, bass-baritone, as “the Thug”

Benjamin Burney, tenor, as “the Scholar”

Maurice Hendricks, baritone, as “the Father”

Laura Thomason, mezzo-soprano, as “the Lover”

Production Team

Conductor: Garrett McQueen

Stage Director: Jonathan Clark                

Assistant Director: Sierra Hammond

Music Director: Brandon Coffer

Knoxville Partner links:

The Carpetbag Theatre, Inc.

Beck Cultural Exchange Center                  

Consortium Companies:

Marble City Opera                                     

Cleveland Opera Theater                          

Opera Columbus                                     

Pacific Opera Project                            


Additional links:

Composer: Leslie Savoy Burrs                                                

Conductor: Garrett McQueen                                               

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