Harriet’s Spirit Workshop

by Marcus Shelby

Libretto by Roma Olvera

May 2021

Details subject to change

Opera Parallèle continues its development of Harriet’s Spirit, a new opera inspired by the life of heroic American abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman. After its first outing in 2017, OP renews its commitment to this important new work by workshopping a new orchestration with musicians and singers in conversation with diverse community segments. Harriet’s Spirit features new music by Bay Area-based jazz composer and bassist Marcus Shelby and a libretto by Roma Olvera as part of OP’s acclaimed Hands-On Opera program, which creates and presents accessible and sophisticated new music theater works in collaboration with gifted young singers during an intensive residency. A full production and premiere are planned for our 2021/22 season.

Harriet’s Spirit Synopsis

Modesty, a middle-school aged girl who endures adversity and bullying at school, is inspired by the biography of Harriet Tubman that she is reading. She begins to receive guidance and strength from her hero and “spirit guide.” Based on a dramatic historical event from Harriet Tubman’s service during the Civil War, Modesty and Harriet contemplate the influence of fear and value of love’s ultimate role in giving meaning and direction to our lives.

Creative Team

Conductor | Nicole Paiement

Director/Production Concept | Brian Staufenbiel

Dramaturg | L. Peter Callender

Creative Contributor and Supporter | Denise Young Smith

Assistant Conductor | Jaymes Kirksey

Pianist | Keisuke Nakagoshi


The Cast

Harriet Tubman: Tiffany Austin – Mezzo-Soprano

Modesty: Christabel Nunoo – Soprano

Montgomery: Bradley Kynard – Baritone


Presenting Sponsor

Horizons Foundation

Production Sponsors

The Sam Mazza Foundation | Denise Young Smith and Blue Organza Productions


Since 2013, Opera Parallèle’s Hands-On-Opera program has created opportunities for students to have a complete operatic experience. This program gives students from various age groups the opportunity to participate in producing and performing an opera. The program also provides opportunities for emerging composers, librettists and creatives through the commission of new works specifically for younger performers and family audiences.

Participants in Hands-on-Opera experience the following:

  • Learning and preparing music, with professional guidance accompanied by orchestral instruments
  • Telling a story and developing a character with singing and movement
  • Designing costumes and make-up alongside professional designers
  • Working with a conductor and a stage director
  • Performing on stage in front of a live audience with professional singers