Synopsis for Omar
Scene One: 1806, Futa Toro (a region of West Africa now part of Senegal)
in his peaceful village, Omar Ibn Said chants verses from the Quran. Omar’s mother Fatima, a spiritual matriarch of the village, leads the community in a prayer to Allah. Worried that his village will fall prey to the slavers pillaging the region, Omar's brother Abdul has been negotiating with them for the safety of his people. Omar believes that Allah has a plan for him, but Fatima cautions him that the plan might not be what he anticipates.
Abdul discovers that he has been deceived and he warns his family to flee the coming raiders. But it is too late. Warriors overrun the compound and begin taking people prisoner. Fatima is killed in the chaos.
Scene Two: The Middle Passage
Omar is shackled closely together with other prisoners in the cramped cargo hold of a slave ship. The desperate prisoners, each of them with their own individual life stories, pray to survive their horrendous journey.
Scene Three: The Charleston Slave Market
The enslaved woman Julie has been kidnapped and dragged to the market for sale. She plans to escape her kidnapper and return to the Owen plantation in Fayetteville, which seems like a better option than the uncertain future that awaits her at the market. Julie recognizes that the newly arrived Omar doesn’t comprehend what is about to happen to him. She tries to explain to Omar (who cannot understand her words) that if he manages to run away, he should try to make it to Fayetteville.
The slave auction begins. A family is brought up for sale. The father, Abe, pleads to be allowed to remain together, but the parents are sold separately from their young son. When Omar is led to the podium, the auctioneer flings his cap into the crowd, and Julie picks it up. In his anguish, Omar sees the spirit of his mother, who signals that Julie has managed to get free of her bonds. He creates a distraction so that Julie can escape. Omar is sold to Johnson.
Scene Four: Johnson’s plantation
Enslaved workers sing a work song as they labor. Omar keeps to himself. Johnson shouts at one of the men and strikes him. He then turns his wrath on Omar, asserting his authority and sending him to pick cotton in the fields.
Scene Five: Johnson’s plantation, five months later
As Omar sleeps, the spirit of Omar’s mother watches over him. Johnson’s voice is heard, furiously calling for Omar. At his mother’s urging, Omar escapes.
Scene One: Fayetteville County Jail
Omar has escaped but is eventually captured. He prays and writes Quranic verses in Arabic on the walls of the jail cell. This catches the attention of the townspeople, who wonder where he came from. The plantation owner Owen is urged by his daughter Eliza to buy Omar, who has by now learned to speak English. Owen questions Omar about his background, and their discussion turns to matters of spirituality. Owen sees an opportunity to convert Omar to Christianity.
Scene Two: Owen’s plantation
The enslaved workers come to the end of the day’s labors. One of them, Katie Ellen, is surprised that Julie has returned to the plantation. Owen and his friend Taylor arrive with Omar and introduce him to the other enslaved workers, who remind Omar that they all must be wary. Julie is impressed that Omar has followed her advice. She tells him that her father used to wear a cap like Omar’s. When she was a child, her father was sold and taken away. She has kept Omar’s cap all this time because it reminded her of her father, and she gives it back to Omar.
Scene Three: Owen’s study
Owen and Taylor are excited about the prospect of converting Omar to their faith, which will give Owen a great deal of prestige in his community. Owen gives Omar a Christian Bible written in Arabic and asks him to write "The Lord is my Shepherd,” in that language. Omar actually writes the words “I want to go home.”
Scene Four: Owen’s plantation
As Omar reads his new Bible under a tree, he asks Allah the meaning of his life journey. He recites and reinterprets Psalm 23 from the point of view of an enslaved Muslim. The scene ends with a choral amen, as Omar intones an Islamic prayer.
Scene Five: Owen’s plantation (finale)
Julie is fascinated that Omar can read and write. She encourages him to write a book. The spirit of Fatima joins Julie in urging Omar to write about his experiences and his faith. As he finds his voice, Omar calls on people of the Carolinas and of America to honor the tenets of their faith. The company joins Omar in praising the omnipresence of Allah in all that has been and in all that will be.
Synopsis by Mark Lyons, courtesy of Los Angeles Opera