of Harriet Tubman
(1990) A narrated music-drama based on the opera Harriet, the Woman Called Moses
6 principal singers, 3 actors, chorus (8) (SSAATTBB)
fl, cl, hn, perc, pf, (syn), vn, va, vc
Orchestrated by Julian Grant
Libretto by the composer based on the opera
January 1993, Mobile Opera
Publisher: Novello & Co Ltd
The story of Harriet Tubman concerns an individual gifted with those rare qualities of courage and imagination which enabled her to overcome seemingly insuperable odds. She followed the North Star to freedom and then became herself a famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, helping many other slaves to escape.
Her story is also a moving example of the age-old conflict between good and evil. Abraham Lincoln described it in very direct terms:
...slavery is the eternal struggle between two principles which have stood face to face since the beginning of time, and which will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of all humanity; the other is the divine right of kings. Slavery is the spirit that says 'You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it!' No matter what shape it comes in it is the same principle.
The remarkable seventeenth century Englishman, John Lilburne put it in another way: "For what is done to anyone may be done to everyone."
At one time or another, most of us have asked the question "but what can one person do?" Harriet Tubman is an inspiration to those of us who despair of being able to make any positive change in the world in which we live. Black people do not lack for heroes and heroines, but Harriet Tubman certainly deserves an exalted place in the history of mankind's struggle for human rights.
These are some of the reasons why I, a white woman of Scottish descent, felt moved to write about Harriet Tubman. But there is an another overriding reason why composers are drawn to subjects that cross political and temporal boundaries and venture into different, often exotic settings for their works. For in addition to making one's work a satisfying emotional experience for the audience, most composers want to underline and emphasize the eternal nature of human conflicts and emotions which transcend time and place. Artist are accustomed to making the leap in the imagination into the feelings and lives of people very different from themselves, yet impelled and moved by the same motivation. Harriet is every woman who dared to defy injustice and tyranny; she is Joan of Arc, she is Susan B. Anthony, she is Anne Frank, she is Mother Teresa.
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