FIRST PERFORMANCE OF “THE SUN DANCE OPERA” IN VERNAL, UTAH
In 1912, Yankton Dakota writer Zitkála-Šá (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin), began collaborating on an opera with William F. Hanson, formerly of Brigham Young University (BYU) and friend of Gertrude’s husband, Raymond. Gertrude had already published her book of traditional stories, Old Indian Legends, and written articles about her life for Harper’s Weekly and Atlantic Monthly. A classically-trained musician, she played the Native melodies on the violin while Hanson orchestrated them. Gertrude wrote the libretto. The result was a combination of operetta and traditional Plains Indian ritual. Set near Yankton, South Dakota, the story is a love triangle between a Shoshone outsider, Sweet Singer, and Winona and Ohiya, both Sioux, overlaid on the Sun Dance ritual. In regional performances, (Vernal Utah and, later, at BYU) the opera provided a stage for Native American singers and dancers to participate in rituals whose practice was forbidden. In 1938, the opera was New York Opera Guild’s “Opera of the year.”
Source: P. Jane Hafen, “A Cultural Duet Zitkala Ša And The Sun Dance Opera,” Great Plains Quarterly, Spring 1998. Retrieved 12/22/2019, http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3027&context=greatplainsquarterly Photo: Gertrude Käsebier, 1898. Public Domain.