Painting of a Union soldier reading the Emancipation Proclamation to a group of slaves.

Library of Congress


Golden Gate Opera, in cooperation with the Marin County Office of Education, is pleased to present its online course, Emancipation: The Opera.


Emancipation is a locally composed opera that tells the story of how President Abraham Lincoln was moved by gospel-singing friends to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Previous to their impact on him, Lincoln had a  purely political concern about slavery. On a particular night, after a Gospel concert in a secluded campground, it is reported that Lincoln wept. In his heart he then recognized African Americans' equal humanity with himself. Three weeks later, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

We want to give students respect for and pride in the role African Americans have played in fighting slavery and racism and an educational experience about little known facts in the life of President Lincoln. We also want to introduce students to opera as a dramatic musical medium for promoting topics of social significance.


Golden Gate Opera's distance learning program is a video composite of scenes from the opera. This has been an 8-year effort. Some of the scenes are from the 2012 production, some from 2016, and there is one new scene, written and filmed in 2020. The scene "First Meeting of President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass" was filmed at a rehearsal, so the characters are not in costume and stand further apart than they would in performance. Notwithstanding, the dramatic effect of the scene is still readily apparent.


The videos are to be viewed in conjunction with readings and videos found on the Resource Materials page. Class discussion of the issues surrounding slavery, emancipation from slavery, and the subsequent struggle for black human rights that has transpired in the years since, will enhance and embed the lessons learned.  It is our hope that this will inspire a new awareness of all of our rights and responsibilities toward each other, a new determination in students to continue the effort to treat each other with dignity and respect.


It is suggested that educators engage in preparatory learning in the days leading up to viewing the performance videos. Learning about the story and how to enjoy an opera will prepare students for an exciting, enriching experience. They will learn to identify the origins of racism and gain tools to make a difference in bringing it to an end.


Roberta Wain-Becker

General Director

Golden Gate Opera