Friend and Colleague Documents D’earth’s Project of a Lifetime

Dearth holding his trumpet talking

In many ways, John D’earth, a lecturer in the University of Virginia’s McIntire Department of Music, has been writing this opera his whole life. He wrote the first song in his mid-20s and lived out the story – which is partly autobiographical – even before that.

D’earth, who directs the jazz performance program, saw that vision come to life as his opera, “Sacred Profanity,” debuted Jan. 11 at the Live Arts community theater in Charlottesville after a month of intensive workshop rehearsals. The story follows the life of a middle-aged man as he raises his 12-year-old son in a tenement above a jazz bar.

The plot is loosely based on D’earth’s relationship with his father, a World War II veteran who, despite struggling with alcoholism, possessed an artistic genius that sparked his son’s lifelong love of music. 

“I have wanted to write an opera since I was a teenager, and I have had this particular opera in mind for many years,” D’earth said. “It came together for this workshop in the most amazing way.”

For a month prior to the premiere, D’earth and his cast developed the opera through Live Arts’ “New Works on Fire” program, which launches new pieces through an intensive workshop process, culminating in a public performance. D’earth’s longtime friend, John Edwin Mason, a professor in the Corcoran Department of History who specializes in the history of photography, documented the process from rehearsal to performance.