When I Crossed that Line to Freedom
HARRIET TUBMAN: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom is a two act theatrical work that tells of how a young girl born in slavery, becomes Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor. Based on recent Tubman biographies, the story is told in the context of Tubman’s tight-knit family of lively characters. HARRIET TUBMAN carries the universal themes of sisterhood, courage, sacrifice and doing what is necessary to keep a family together. Moreover it is a heartwarming tale of two sisters vowing that nothing but death will separate them, despite the slavery threatening to tear them apart.
ACT I: IN SLAVERY
Dorchester County, MD. Circa 1829.Born into slavery, young Araminta or "Minty" Ross is sent away from her family to work for plantation owners in the area. Minty encounters numerous mishaps over the years, until an accident leaves her in a coma. When she recovers, new duties have her learning lumbering from her father and brothers. Mindful of a climate in which human property can e bought and sold, she vows that "nothing but the grave" will part her from her baby sister, Rachel. As a young adult, "Minty" changes her name to Harriet and subsequently marries a free man named John Tubman. Hearing of her impending sale from home, Harriet runs away to the unknown North, aided by the local Reverend, Samuel Green.
ACT II: IN FREEDOM
Two years later, Tubman, speaks to a covert gathering of abolitionists presided over by William Still, the famed Stationmaster of Philadelphia's Underground Railroad Network. Tubman, now a seasoned part of the network, tells of her escape and ambitions of liberating her family. Supported by the abolitionists, and wages earned through domestic work, she begins rescue missions home, each time conducting small groups of family and friends to the north. While each trip is a victory, she struggles with getting Rachel to join her. Tubman's fame grows with the increasing number of runaways secreting from the community. Her escapades earn her the moniker "Moses, the Liberator."
HARRIET TUBMAN was commissioned and produced by American Opera Projects (AOP) with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts ARTWORKS Grant.
“I am Moses, the liberator,” Harriet proclaims in her final aria, pistol in hand as she urges an exhausted man to continue running toward freedom. “You keep on going or die.” With its themes of survival and deliverance, Okoye’s work would make a fitting grand opening for an opera company’s post-pandemic relaunch. The New York Times | March 17, 2021
“Okoye’s [Harriet Tubman] is an ensemble of achingly beautiful arias, duets, trios and choruses that recount the major episodes in Tubman’s career...” The Baltimore Sun | September 3, 2006
“I personally believe that [HARRIET TUBMAN] will enter the repertoire and be discussed with similar praise as George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess - this is a major composition, very worthy, and was greeted with well-deserved standing ovations!” Mark W. Greenfest. March 3, 2014. SOUND WORD SIGHT
“[Okoye] spins simple Americana into the gold of art music of lasting quality... The music is irresistible, invigorating, and vivid, building to an unforgettable and thrilling conclusion. It is a great American opera.” Hyde Park Herald | November 9, 2016
“Nkeiru Okoye deftly pieces together a kaleidoscopic musical fabric of disconcerting beauty... The packed house at [Oberlin College’s] Finney Chapel was remarkable for its diversity, drawing from all sectors of the community. This a testament to the benefit of celebrating a largely African American production, if indeed your goal is true diversity and inclusion.” I Care If You Listen | February 16, 2016
“Okoye, who wrote both the score and the libretto, gives plenty of scope to Tubman’s iconic courage. She also shows the pain — physical and spiritual — of the young girl discovering that courage through the brutal abuses of slavery; through the anguish of her dangerous and lonely journey toward freedom; and through the alienation of a life in freedom far from home and family, where she finds herself “a stranger in a strange land.” This Tubman is not just a Moses-like liberator, but also an individual from whom we learn about the accumulated hurts and losses of slavery.” Cleveland Classical | February 16, 2016
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