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 with quotes of her own words 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.
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.
|Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ (Amsterdam)|
+31 20 788 20 00
|Festival International Cervantino (Guanajuato )|
(00 52) 5615940
|Festival Vértice (Mexico City)|
|November Music Nederland ('s-Hertogenbosch)|
+31 73 612 20 00
|Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (Huddersfield)|
|Théâtre Croix-Rousse Lyon (Lyon)|
+33 4 72 07 49 49
|deSingel Antwerpen (Antwerpen)|
+32 3 248 28 28
+ 31 1 436 60 70
‘Harriet’ is anything but a hagiography, but thanks to McFadden’s intense and believable performance the protagonist grew into a gripping symbol of bottomless injustice. … ‘Harriet’ convinced as a stylised and layered art work that left the viewer shaken, even ashamed.’
NRC.nl ***** - 4 October 2018
All praise to Claron McFadden for her interpretation of Tubman. Her performance is physically restrained, even static, but every look and every gesture breathes a confident fight and energy. … McFadden also tackles Paredes’ daring composition with obvious ease. She swings effortlessly between vocal acrobatics with her head voice and the musical quotations from the sober spirituals that Parades has woven into her composition.
Theaterkrant Nederland - 4 October 2018
Paredes’ music is beautiful and rich in details, and alongside subtle and rarefied textures it contains spikier sounds and in the fourth act even martial rhythms… The show is strengthened by the surprisingly inventive and sharply timed projections … in which Matreyek confronts documentary material such as old engravings with beautifully made animations, from concrete to abstract, which at some moments coincide precisely with the actions of both singers.
De Volkskrant Nederland **** - 4 October 2018
Hilda Paredes takes from society everything that is in it … a profound theatre experience. The leading role of the Dutch-American soprano Claron McFadden, who identified completely with Harriet Tubman, was crucial for the whole event. … What a sensation! The whole cast radiated inspiration that drew in the whole audience: I won’t say that it was all down to McFadden, but it certainly was to a large extent, it couldn’t have been otherwise. Chapeau!
Werkgroep Caraïbische Letteren - 8 October 2018