Jamez McCorkle returns to Spoleto Festival USA this year in A Poet's Love after performing in Omar during the 2022 festival | Photo by Vincent Master; Treatment by Miwa Matreyek

2022 Spoleto Festival USA favorite Jamez McCorkle will perform in his second festival production this season in A Poet’s Love in what feels like a second homecoming.

The tenor who performed the title role in the award-winning 2022 opera Omar, McCorkle will deliver a solo take on Robert Schumann’s 1840 composition “Dichterliebe,” a 16-song cycle that tells the story of a man’s pursuit of the woman he loves.

McCorkle will sing and accompany himself on piano for this multilayered performance, which takes place at the Queen Street Playhouse from May 26 through May 30. 

“The amount of sheer hours I have to pour into being able to play the piano and sing at the same time is immense,” said McCorkle. “It’s like trying to perform two Olympic sports at the exact same time.” 

The production will also include layered projections — moving shadows of dancers with overlaid images — as McCorkle plays. They’re designed by Miwa Matreyek, a solo artist who has been working and touring since 2010. She used different levels of exposure, original choreography, her own shadows, Photoshop and AfterEffects to create projections for A Poet’s Love.

“I am playing with the language of both theater and performance in my artistry,” Matreyek said, “but also with cinema in terms of creating things like zooms, pans and close ups or framing around the performer.” 

Each dancer is set to a timeline with broad cues, but overall the choreography follows McCorkle’s lead when he begins playing a song. 

“It’s so magical, she’s very experimental and tries not to do the same thing twice,” he said. “It also helps me in a way, because everything seems so spontaneous with her art (and how she interacts with the shadows live) — it gives me a push and pull musically as well.” 

Between Matreyek’s art and McCorkle’s musical interpretation of A Poet’s Love, the production is very much a collaborative experience.

“This is sort of as much her baby as it is mine,” McCorkle said. “And we’re just sort of coming together to help raise this child.” 

The two-person production is much different from his experience last year in Omar, a full-scale opera based on the real-life story of Omar ibn Said, a Muslim scholar from Senegal who was brought to Charleston in 1807 as a slave.

“It’s a unique experience to be able to portray a character that you can connect with on such a root level,” McCorkle said. “To be able to tap into my own history made everything feel so much more real.” 

The general director of Spoleto Festival USA, Mena Mark Hanna, reportedly reached out to McCorkle about doing A Poet’s Love after seeing videos of him performing it on his Instagram. 

McCorkle said he appreciated the experience the role of Omar gave him, and he’s excited to be back again this year. After a career that took him from New York City and New Orleans to Philadelphia and Germany, he said it feels “full circle” to return to Charleston.

IF YOU PLAN TO GO: Tickets are $38. Shows at 5:30 p.m., May 26; 2 p.m. May 27; 4 p.m. May 29; and 7 p.m., May 30. Queen Street Playhouse, 20 Queen St.

Aiyana Hardy is an arts journalism master’s degree student at Syracuse University.

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