American Apollo is a new opera based on a story forged at the crossroad of celebrity, class, race, and power in America, giving voice to a pivotal figure in American art: Thomas Eugene McKeller, a Black model who served as inspiration for the famous portraitist, John Singer Sargent. McKeller posed for most of the figures in Sargent's murals at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, but the painter transformed McKeller's figure into white gods and goddesses, creating soaring allegories of the liberal arts that celebrated the recent expansion of the city's premier civic museum. Themes of erasure, the white gaze, and the nature of the relationship between the two men are explored in this powerful new work.
With special contributions from Sargent scholar Nathaniel Silver and drawing on the recent Gardner Museum exhibition Boston's Apollo, this tale of individual courage and breathtaking vulnerability peels the varnish off venerable historical figures to reveal the beating heart and simmering desire beneath Sargent's only uncommissioned monumental male nude. A short performance, discussion, and lecture with Gardner curator Dr. Nathaniel Silver will be presented in July 2022 in collaboration with the Des Moines Art Center and Pyramid Theatre.