An opera about one of Iowa’s most famous inventors and agricultural pioneers makes its world premiere in Des Moines later this month, before embarking on a statewide tour. Born a slave in Missouri around 1860, George Washington Carver excelled in his eventual education in Iowa.
The opera, "A Dream Fulfilled: The Saga of George Washington Carver," follows his early years in Ames, Winterset and Indianola, where he attended Simpson College. McB McManus, spokeswoman for the Des Moines Metro Opera, says Carver "spent a few years at Simpson before he transferred to Iowa State College then, before it became Iowa State University, where he was the first African-American who was appointed to their faculty after his graduation."
McManus says the opera focuses on Carver’s setting of goals — and accomplishing them — including his graduation from Iowa State in 1892. "He went on to the Tuskegee Institute (in Alabama) and became well known around the country for his work in agricultural research," McManus says. "Ultimately, the opera ends with his testimony before Congress regarding peanut tariffs." Carver’s work in finding crop alternatives to cotton led him to the peanut and he created more than 325 peanut-related products, helping create demand for the plant and established it as a major American crop.
Carver worked with several other plants and is often credited with changing the face of agriculture in the American south. This opera was composed by an Iowa native — Michael Patterson of Indianola, a music professor at Simpson College. McManus says it’s the perfect way to introduce young Iowans to Carver — and to opera.
"Opera is the original multimedia art form and it is an art form that is really accessible to children — who are so open to receiving information without a lot of preconceptions," McManus says. The opera runs less than an hour and targets children. Hundreds of central Iowa students will see the production, which opens January 26th at the State Historical Building.
After that, the show will go on the road, visiting around 80 schools in some 70 Iowa cities through spring. For more information, visit the Des Moines Opera’s website.