Monday, February 1, 2016 Cleveland Opera Theater partners with Oberlin on sublime new opera about Harriet Tubman [Nkeiru Okoye's opera conducted by Julius P. Williams] Cleveland and Oberlin Opera Theaters are currently collaborating on a production of "When I Crossed That Line to Freedom," a contemporary opera by Nkeiru Okoye based on the life of Harriet Tubman.
Nkeiru Okoye, Ph.D.

Maestro Julius P. Williams, Composer, Conductor and Professor, has a website at and is featured at

Nkeiru Okoye writes:

Good Morning

Check out this amazing review of my opera, HARRIET TUBMAN, with Oberlin Opera Theater.  They are doing a mini tour of churches and the Oberlin College Campus, where I will be in residence this weekend.  

The reviewer called the opera “sublime."

Best wishes,


Special to The Plain Dealer
on February 01, 2016


OBERLIN, Ohio -- Friday night at Christ Temple Apostolic Church in Oberlin, something extraordinary happened.

The occasion was the first of a series of performances by Oberlin Opera Theater, in collaboration with Cleveland Opera Theater, marking the Midwest premiere of Nkeiru Okoye's opera "Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom."

What might have been a rough-edged run-through of a work looking to find its fullest voice turned out to be an emotionally charged and musically sublime experience.

Okoye, an Oberlin alumna who is currently director of music theory and composition at SUNY New Paltz, has created an uplifting and dynamic musical evocation of the life of Harriet Tubman, the intrepid African-American abolitionist who at great risk shepherded nearly 70 family members and friends from slave states to the north.

A note of historical authenticity is created by Okoye's use of 19th- and 20th-century African-American musical forms, including hymnody, gospel, jazz, ragtime, a minstrel song, and a juba dance. Okoye even wrote her own libretto, based on years of research into Tubman's life.

The cast included a number of outstanding Oberlin student singers, headed by mezzo-soprano Amber Monroe in the title role. Monroe was truly the backbone of the production, with her powerful and thrilling voice and her impressive acting ability, but other singers deserve credit as well, including Brian Keith Johnson as Harriet's husband John Tubman, a rascally fellow whose amorous imprecations in the minstrel song "Brown Skinned Gal" evoked the easy self-confidence of Sportin' Life in Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."

As Harriet's sister Rachel, soprano Victoria Ellington was sweet and fragile, with a lovely voice and good sense of drama. Baritone David Hughey did double duty as Harriet's father Ben and abolitionist William Still, bringing authority and experience to the two roles (Hughey is a much sought-after singer, performing in opera across the U.S. and in Europe).

As the trio of Harriet's brothers, Kojo Appiah, Ryan Dearon and Cory McGee were vocally well-matched and dramatically robust.

Julius Williams, who has conducted around the globe and is currently professor of composition and conducting at Boston's Berklee College of Music, led the ensemble of 11 singers and six instrumentalists with a sure hand.

Comment by email:

1) Hi Bill,  Many, Many thanks!  Nkeiru  [Nkeiru Okoye]

2) The pairing of Composer Nkeiru Okoye and conductor Julius Williams is exceptionally exciting.  [John Malveaux]

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