A global tragedy that hits close to home

A Pulitzer-winning opera pushes Americans to reckon with the devastating world of exploitation for profit.

In “Angel’s Bone,” composer Du Yun considers the searing cost of human trafficking.

A lecturer at the School of the Arts at Purchase College, Du Yun won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music for the work.

In making the award, the Pulitzer committee praised “Angel’s Bone” as a bold piece “that integrates vocal and instrumental elements and a wide range of styles into a harrowing allegory for human trafficking in the modern world.”

“Angel’s Bone” was first produced in January 2016 at the Prototype Festival in New York City and includes a libretto by Royce Vavrek. It tells the story of two fallen angels who are found by a Middle American couple. The angels are nursed back to health but then forced into prostitution to regain their plucked feathers.

Reviewing “Angel’s Bone” at the Prototype Festival, Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of The New York Times described it as “an appallingly good work when you consider that it takes on the subject of child trafficking and mixes in elements of magic realism and a musical cocktail of Renaissance polyphony, electronica, Modernism, punk rock and cabaret.”

Du Yun was born and raised in Shanghai, where she was educated at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music before going on to Oberlin College’s Conservatory of Music and Harvard University. In 2011, NPR (National Public Radio) named her as one of the top 100 composers under 40.

She spoke with NPR following the Pulitzer announcement. In the interview, she said human trafficking isn’t just someone else’s problem.

“When we look at human trafficking, we always think that it’s far away from us,” she told NPR. “We all have our own narrative of what human trafficking is supposed to be, but if you do a little research, human trafficking happens, in many different forms and shapes, right in our backyard.”

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 people — from children to adults, citizens to foreign nationals — are trafficked into this country each year. The U.S. State Department says that there are almost a quarter-million American children and youth that are at risk for sex trafficking each year.

Du Yun started at Purchase College’s School of the Arts in 2006 as a classical composition lecturer. She now teaches electroacoustic music and introduction to world music at Purchase’s Conservatory of Music.

In a press release from the school following the Pulitzer announcement, James Undercofler, director of Purchase’s Conservatory of Music, said Du Yun’s “music, her teaching and she, herself, demonstrate a far-reaching imagination and cunning spirit. She is a treasure, without question.”

Purchase College President Thomas J. Schwarz added that he is “grateful that she is equally dedicated to teaching the next generation of composers at Purchase College.”

For more, visit channelduyun.com.

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