Scènes in the life of Harriet Tubman

Portrait of the courageous Afro-American freedom fighter Harriet Tubman and her struggle against slavery.

This monodrama is a portrait of the Afro-American freedom fighter and former slave Harriet Tubman (c. 1822-1913). This chamber opera is scored for two voices, percussion, violin, guitar and electronics. In the libretto (Mayra Santos-Febres & Lex Bohlmeijer) Harriet (sung by McFadden) tells her life story to her young protégé Alice (Naomi Beeldens).

In Act I we hear about her childhood as a slave and she talks about the violent injury to her head suffered when she was young. The music makes reference to the religious visions that resulted from it and which showed her the way out. Important also in the development of the drama were her activities rescuing enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists known as the Underground Railroad, for which she became a leader known as the Moses of her people. Like most slaves she was illiterate so she used music to direct the fugitives, the score makes reference to these tunes in Act II, known to have been used as coded messages for the runaways. These tunes are entwined in the dramaturgy of the music as codes.

Shortly after acquiring a property in New York State, Harriet went back to Maryland once more and returned with an eight-year-old light-skinned black girl named Margaret. Act III makes reference to the unanswered question that Margaret was possibly Tubman's daughter as the two shared an unusually strong bond. Alice, Margaret’s youngest daughter, spent much time with Harriet in her old age, listening to her stories.

In Act IV we hear about the battles she led during the civil war such as the one that took place at the Combahee river and how she was made General by John Brown, an antislavery leader of his time. We also learn about Nelson Davies a young soldier who became her second husband.

The work makes constant reference to her thoughts as recorded by various sources and at the end of ActIV we hear her message to President Lincoln.

The epilogue is a message of hope and continuity for her fight against slavery and racism.

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Muziektheater Transparant.

Coproduction: HERMESensemble, Théâtre de la Croix-Rousse, Festival Internacional Cervantino, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Operadagen Rotterdam, Coordinación de Difusión Cultural UNAM, Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ and CIRM, Centre National de Création Musicale.

Composition commissioned by Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Festival Internacional Cervantino, Muziekgebouw aan ‘IJ and Muziektheater Transparant.

With the support of Ammodo, Tax Shelter of the Belgian Federal Government, Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Mexico (FONCA) and The Composers’ Fund, a PRS for Music Foundation initiative in collaboration with Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Location Dates Hour
Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ (Amsterdam)
+31 20 788 20 00
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Festival International Cervantino (Guanajuato )
(00 52) 5615940
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Festival Vértice (Mexico City)
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November Music Nederland ('s-Hertogenbosch)
+31 73 612 20 00
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Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (Huddersfield)
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Théâtre Croix-Rousse Lyon (Lyon)
+33 4 72 07 49 49
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deSingel Antwerpen (Antwerpen)
+32 3 248 28 28
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Operadagen Rotterdam (Rotterdam)
+31 10 436 60 70
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Composition: Hilda ParedesTexts: Lex BohlmeijerMayra Santos-FebresMusical Director: Manoj KampsDirection | Scenography: Jean LacornerieVideo Design: Miwa MatreyekLighting design I Digital lighting I Scenography: Peter QuastersCostume Design: Lieve PynooVocals: Claron McFaddenNaomi BeeldensEnsemble: HERMESensemble Violin: Wibert Aerts • Guitar: Nico Couck • Percussion: Gaetan La Mela • Electronics I Sound Design: Monica Gil Giraldo