Karen S. Allen describes herself as a history buff, interested in particular in women's history.
"I wanted to see who the women were in New Rochelle," she said, "to know more about them."
Along the way, she ran across a booklet about Ellabelle Davis, an African-American singer born and raised in New Rochelle.
"I read her story and said, 'Oh, this is interesting,' " Allen said.
The result of her interest was an opera celebrating Davis's life called The Gentle Lark of New Rochelle: Celebrating the Life of Ellabelle Davis.
The work will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16 at the Bethesda Family Life Center, 71 Lincoln Ave. in New Rochelle.
The one-hour intermissionless performance will be in celebration of the 325th Anniversary of New Rochelle and the 125th Anniversary of Bethesda Baptist Church.
Tickets—available at the door—are $25 for adults; $15, seniors, and $5, students. There will be a reception following the performance.
Allen said that the singer—born in 1907 and who died in 1960—got her break in the 1940s with her operatic debut in Mexico.
Because of her race, she wasn't able to get much work in the United States.
"She was received very well in Europe," Allen said, "but she did make appearances here in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall."
What was most interesting to Allen was Davis's interest in her own community.
"She blended in when she was back," she said.
Her fellow residents knew Davis was a singer, "but they saw her as Ellabelle," Allen said. "She was no prima donna."
The work Allen created the libretto for—Donna M. Cribari is the composer—is being produced and directed by Billie Tucker and Tutti Bravi Productions, Inc.
The opera had its debut performance in 2007. Allen said it's been performed every year since.
Allen said the 2013 performance ties in nicely with New Rochelle's 325th Anniversary.
"The anniversary is covering a lot of things, part of which is who are the New Rochelle notables," she said.
And Davis had participated in a homecoming at Bethesda Baptist Church in 1952, Allen said, something that's been included in the latest version of the opera.
Soprano Audrey DuBois-Harris of Charlotte, NC, is reprising the title role.
In continuing to work on the part, she has found many things to admire about Davis.
"During my upbringing and musical training, of course I'd heard of countless African-American singers who made major contributions to opera and classical music," Dubois-Harris said, citing Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price.
"[Davis] was a person who was just as acclaimed and just as talented and beautiful a singer as both of those ladies," she said.
Adding Davis's 1952 Bethesda Baptist homecoming was enlightening, DuBois-Harris said.
She said it was remarkable that there was a mixed-race crowd in attendance, not a common happening in the 1950s.
"To be able to have that type of setting and to know it's for you is a real momentous occasion," DuBois-Harris said.
Allen said it has been a thrill for her to work on Ellabelle Davis's story.
"There is something very exciting about letting people know about someone who is not known or forgotten," she said.