Friday, November 15, 2013

AOP and Schomburg Center co-present scenes from Nkeiru Okoye's 'Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom'; Q & A with Terrance McKnight


New York, NY-- AOP (American Opera Projects), and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will co-present an evening of scenes from Nkeiru Okoye's folk opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom that tells of how a young girl born in slavery, becomes Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor. The musical excerpts will be followed by an artist Q&A moderated by WQXR's Terrance McKnight. The concert will be presented on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 6:30 PM at the Langston Hughes Auditorium: 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801. General admission will be $10 ($8 for Schomburg Society Members) and available by calling (212) 491-2206 or visiting

Harriet Tubman will include performances by soprano Sumayya Ali (Lincoln Center, Berkshire Opera, Sarasota Opera), soprano Sequina DuBose (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Memphis, PAB Theater), contralto Nicole Mitchell (Lincoln Center Festival, Sarasota Opera), tenor Clinton Ingram (Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Teatro Real), and baritone Damian Norfleet (Perseverance Theater, AMAS Musical Theater, Prospect Theater Company).  The evening will feature a string ensemble with music direction by Mila Henry, stage direction by Beth Greenberg (New York City Opera) and WQXR's Terrance McKnight moderating a Q&A with the artists. 

Using a mixture of opera and vernacular folk music, featuring gospel spirituals, ragtime, early blues, minstrel songs, work songs, call and responses, and field hollers, Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom tells this important chapter of American history in the context of Tubman's tight-knit family of lively characters and two sisters vowing that nothing but death will separate them, despite the slavery threatening to tear them apart. The work is in development at Brooklyn-based AOP who has featured music from Tubman at venues such as Galapagos Art Space, SUNY Albany, and the Brooklyn Public Library Main Branch.

A semi-staged performance of the entire Harriet Tubman opera will be presented by AOP in February 2014 at Brooklyn's Irondale Center as part of Lines of Freedom, a theatrical celebration of African-American history. Presentations of Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works.


Nkeiru Okoye
 is an established voice in new music. Her works have been performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Virginia Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Grand Rapids Symphony, New Jersey Symphony and countless regional orchestras. She has garnered numerous awards, commissions and commendations from MEET THE COMPOSER, the Virginia Symphony, MetLife Creative Connections, John Duffy Composer Institute, Composer's Collaborative, Inc., the Walt Whitman Project, Yvar Mikhashov Trust for New Music and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). After penning her first composition at age 13 and winning first prize at a national competition, she decided to pursue  training as a composer. Okoye's best known works include Brooklyn Cinderella (2011, commissioned by American Opera Projects), Songs of Harriet Tubman (2007, on the CD Heart on a Wall), Phillis Wheatley (2005 recorded by the Moscow Symphony), Voices Shouting Out (2002, commissioned by the Virginia Symphony); African Sketches (2007-08, published in the Oxford University Press Anthology of Piano Music of the African Diaspora); and The Genesis. As a frequent guest lecturer and panelist, Okoye was a composer mentor at the University of Ghana for the 2005 International Society of Contemporary Music's World New Music Days. In 2006, she was the winner of a British American Project Fellowship. A native New Yorker of African American and Nigerian descent, Okoye was honored at Nigeria's 40under40 ceremony in Lagos. Dr. Okoye is a multi-talented polymath who designed the acclaimed "Canbie Collection", a series of multicultural, soft sculpture dolls, found in the Smithsonian and museums nationwide. She holds degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Rutgers University and currently serves on the composition faculty at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Sumayya Ali has been recognized for her remarkable artistic integrity and versatility. Blessed with a "heart wrenchingly tender yet powerful soprano," her intentions are to use her voice to heal, speak truth and enlighten. Sumayya has illuminated stages on Broadway, as well as concert halls and opera houses throughout the world. In addition to her theatrical work, she has started to break into film. Ms. Ali made her film debut in Red Hook Summer directed by Spike Lee this past summer. Most recently, Sumayya Ali was in the Tony award winning Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess; understudying the title character as well as Clara and Serena. Last month she was featured in The Ragtime Concert at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. In addition to these performances, Ms. Ali stays focused as an avid songwriter, guest artist, recitalist and mentor. Born in Lawrence, KS and partly raised in the Washington, DC area, Sumayya's artistic gifts were largely cultivated at the Duke Ellington School of Arts. Sumayya Ali holds a bachelor's degree from Spelman College in Atlanta, GA as well as a master's degree in music from the New England Conservatory in Boston, MA. Immediately after graduation, Ms. Ali secured contracts with Berkshire Opera, Sarasota Opera and Central City Opera and was declared a Boston district winner for the National Metropolitan Opera Competition. She has danced and sung around the world with Step Afrika!, been featured as a Hollywood contestant on American Idol season 6, made her Broadway debut as the soprano soloist in the 2009 revival of Ragtime! and received several artistic grants and awards from opera companies. However, her greatest accomplishment is being mother to her most precious gem, Hasiba Zahara.
nullNicole Mitchell (contralto) is a proud native of Brooklyn, New York. She has performed regularly with American Opera Projects and The Walt Whitman Project extensively promoting the works of New York composers. Most notably was the song cycle Songs from the F Train composed by Gilda Lyons and joint-commissioned by American Opera Projects and The Walt Whitman Project. These songs were performed at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. This past summer Nicole performed in the New York premiere of Lera Auerbach's opera The Blind in an AOP & Lincoln Center Summer Festival production. Ms. Mitchell has performed at Avery Fisher Hall and with New York City Opera and Sarasota Opera where she sang the role of Tituba in Robert Ward's Pulitzer Prize-Winning opera The Crucible, later reprising the role with Piedmont Opera (2012) at the request of the composer. As a Tanglewood Vocal Fellow (2008) she sang for Maestro James Levine and performed as one of the Six Ladies while covering the role of Leocadja Begbick in Kurt Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. In February 2013, Nicole gave a recital at Brooklyn Navy Yard Center's BLDG 92 Museum. She was officially the second operatic voice heard at the Navy Yard since Eugenia Farrar's 1907 radio broadcast. Next year Nicole will appear in David Lang's work The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (Beth Morrison Projects 2014). In addition to contemporary compositions, Ms. Mitchell's concert work as alto soloist includes Verdi's Requiem, Brahms' Alto Rhapsody, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony & Choral Fantasy, Handel's Messiah, Rossini's Stabat Mater and Mozart's Requiem to be performed with at The Colour of Music Festival in Charleston, SC.

Sequina DuBose has most recently performed as a soloist in the U.S. National Tour of famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis' work entitled The Abyssinian Mass with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau under the direction of Damien Sneed. She has also performed under the baton of Mr. Sneed during her American Opera Projects debut as Rachel in the folk opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom (Nkeiru Okoye). She has performed as Clara in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (PAB Theater National U.S. Tour), and covered the role of Annie in Porgy and Bess (Lyric Opera of Chicago); a role she will reprise in her upcoming Royal Danish Theater debut (Copenhagen 2014). Additional opera roles include: Clorinda in La Cenerentola (Rossini)- Opera Memphis; Musetta in La Boheme (Puccini)- DiCapo Opera (NY); and Victoria in the world premiere of The Mask in the Mirror (Richard Thompson)- Trilogy: An Opera Company (NJ). Musical Theater and Theater credits include: Chloe in the 2012 New York Musical Theater Festival premiere of 7:32- The MusicalShowboatThe Most Happy Fella, and West Side Story with Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater Company' Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (Off-Broadway debut); Lady in Blue in For Colored Girls...(ArtsCentric), and Rose in August Wilson's Fences in New York City. Ms. DuBose has received awards in the Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition, The Lotte Lenya Foundation Kurt Weill Vocal Competition, and the American Traditions Competition. On the concert stage, she most notably appeared as a soloist in the world premiere performance, and the Sony Classical recording, of Wynton Marsalis' All Rise with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. She is thankful for the opportunity to share her God-given talents and is grateful for the support of family and friends!

Clinton Ingram, tenor, was born in Burgin, Kentucky and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University and his Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music. He has appeared with The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Tulsa Opera, Calgary Opera, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain and the Bregenz Festspiele in Bregenz, Austria. His operatic repertoire includes principal roles in Bizet's Carmen, Verdi's Aida, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, Massenet's Heriodiade, and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. He was featured as a principal in four operatic world premieres including Angel Levine by Elie Seigmeister at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, X by Anthony Davis at the American Theater Festival in Philadelphia and N.Y. City Opera, The Mummy by George Quincy at the Musical Theater Lab on 42nd Street, and Three Willies by Leroy Jenkins at The Kitchen Theater in New York City. Other premieres include Coincidents by Leroy Jenkins, Katrina- Voices of the Lost by Michael Sahl, and the cantata Martin Luther King (His Dream Lives On) by David Blake. Ingram's career has taken him to such countries as Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, Sweden, Holland, France, South Korea, Japan, Bermuda, Jamaica, Australia and New Zealand, and has included performing in St. Louis Woman at City Center in New York City with Vanessa Williams and Charles Dutton. He has performed as tenor soloist in over forty different oratorios and cantatas and is frequently heard during the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons in Handel's Messiah and DuBois' The Seven Last Words of Christ. He has also been an active recitalist, church soloist, choral conductor, teacher, composer, and arranger.

Damian Norfleet is a singing actor from Texas who now calls New York City home. Some of his past roles include Coalhouse in Ragtime, Joe in Showboat, Old Deuteronomy in Cats, Scar in The Festival of the Lion King, Ken in Smokey Joe's Café, Curtis in Dreamgirls, Specialist in Tommy, Young Horseman/Nugget in Equus, King of France in Henry V, Duke of Grenada in Happy Hunting, Olin Britt in The Music Man, Paul in Kiss me, Kate (directed by Diane Paulus), Top in The Tenderland, Henry in Street Scene, Bob in The Old Maid and the Thief, Balthazar in Amahl and the Night Visitors, and led the national tour of In the Mood (a big band musical). Damian played the role of Smith in the Drama Desk Award-nominated production of The Threepenny Opera, and was nominated for an IRNE Award for Best Actor for his performance in Ragtime. In addition to doing established works, Damian actively participates in workshops, including Yeast Nation (by the Tony-winning creators of Urinetown) at the Perseverance Theater, Makandal at Harlem Stage, Go West! (Village People musical), Casanova at AMAS Musical Theater, and multiple new shows with the Prospect Theater Company. Damian is an advocate for new American operas as well. He recently played Frederick Douglass in the new opera Truth, and originated the role of John Tubman in Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom with American Opera Projects.
Terrance McKnight is the WQXR weekday evening host. He also hosts the Saturday evening program, All Ears with Terrance McKnight, a show about musical discovery, which was honored with an ASCAP Deems Taylor Radio Broadcast Award in 2010. McKnight's musical experiences - from glee club soloist and accomplished pianist, to professor at Morehouse College, and finally as producer and host of several music programs for public radio - have consistently juxtaposed the European Classical tradition alongside American classic traditions - jazz, gospel, African American spirituals and other musical genres. McKnight was first heard in New York in 2008 when he joined the staff of WNYC. He moved to WQXR in October 2009. Previously he worked at Georgia Public Broadcasting, where he was creator, producer and host of Studio GPB, a program that introduced a wide array of musical artists through interviews, live studios sessions and commercial recordings.
Comments by email:

Congratulation to Nkeiru Okoye, American Opera Projects, and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for scheduling an evening of scenes from Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 6:30 PM at the Langston Hughes Auditorium: 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801. This exciting concert should be a great encouragement to discussions in Los Angeles and beyond.

Hi Bill, Wow….  Very nice write up.  Thank you so much!  Best wishes,  Nkeiru [Nkeiru Okoye]

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