Desdemona, one of the highlights of the Cal Performances season had its opening last night in Zellerbach Hall. The work is a collaboration between Nobel-prize winning novelist Toni Morrison, singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré, and director Peter Sellars. Sellars talks about the genesis of the work in the video above.

As The New York Times detailed yesterday, the collaboration grew out of a furious argument Sellars had with Morrison a decade ago about Othello. Sellars thought it was a terrible, senseless play; Morrison disagreed. Sellars agreed to stage a production of Othello, while Morrison agreed to “talk back to Shakespeare”. Desdemona was originally staged at the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers near Paris. It has three further performances in Berkeley (tonight, Friday and Saturday), before moving to New York next week for two performances. It then transfers to Berlin and will be staged in London to coincide with the 2012 Olympics next summer.

Cal Performances has organized a number of free and open-to-the-public events around the production, all at Zellerbach. Sellars speaks at 5 p.m. today about the work, and tomorrow from noon to 3 p.m. there’s a three-part forum entitled “Dialogues Across Histories, Continents, Cultures”. First, Sellars, Traoré and Morrison (via Skype) discuss their collaboration. They are then joined by UC Berkeley faculty Abdul JanMohamed (English), Tamara Roberts (Music), and Darieck Scott (African American Studies). Finally, Sellars and Traoré will talk about African music.

Sellars is also giving pre-performance talks about the work on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., immediately before Desdemona. The pre-performance talks are open to ticket holders.

Visit the Cal Performances website for full information.

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, bookmark Berkeleyside’s recently launched Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...