Each year, Opera Parallèle partners with school students to create and perform an original opera during an intensive eight-week residency. This year’s world premiere production features an original score by Bay Area jazz great Marcus Shelby and a libretto by Roma Olvera based on the story of a middle school girl who triumphs over the challenges of adolescence with Civil War-era legend Harriet Tubman as her role model and spirit guide. Students of Rooftop Alternative School in San Francisco will share the stage with professional singers and Jazz Ensemble in creating the production. OP’s Hands-On-Opera production annually draws capacity crowds.




Modesty is a middle school aged girl who is struggling with bullying.  She tries daily to melt into the scenery so classmates won’t make fun of her and even worse, is too afraid to protect her friends enduring the same abuse. At night, she escapes into a magical book about the life of Harriet Tubman and is visited by the commanding historical figure who offers advice, tells stories that connect to her life today, and ultimately shows how she triumphed during a moment in the Civil War of great peril with the power of love and music. Students of Rooftop Middle School play roles as adolescent bullies, timid underdogs, and freed slaves during the Civil war. They share the stage with jazz great Tiffany Austin as Harriet Tubman and Christabel Nunoo as the youthful Modesty accompanied by a Jazz Ensemble led by Marcus Shelby under the baton of Lucik Aprahämian and directed by Erin Neff.




January 18 at 6 p.m.

January 20 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. 


Buriel Clay Theater at the African American Art & Culture Complex

762 Fulton Street, San Francisco



Harriet Tubman: Tiffany Austin

Modesty: Christabel Nunoo

General Montgomery: Torlef Borsting

Students of Rooftop Alternative School


 One of the West Coast’s fastest rising jazz vocalists, Tiffany Austin is a classically trained singer who delivers a fiery blend of blues and classic swing. A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law who has lived and performed on three continents, Austin decided to forgo a career as a lawyer to focus on music, her true passion. Her 2015 debut album Nothing But Soul earned positive reviews, including four stars from Downbeat Magazine and an NPR Fresh Air radio feature. Austin is currently working on her second album, Unbroken, scheduled for release in early 2018. www.tiffanyaustin.com



Soprano Christabel Nunoo recently obtained her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, & Dance. She has sung in masterclasses led by esteemed artists such as Martin Katz, Evelyn Lear, Roderick Dixon, Jesse Blumberg, and Reri Grist. She is a former member of the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra from 2004 to 2012 where she also played principal clarinet in the orchestra. Christabel has been invited to perform on several occasions with renowned Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano, Frederica von Stade and was featured in a concert with American composer Jake Heggie for San Francisco Performances. She made her solo debut in 2012 with the Oakland Symphony under the direction of Michael Morgan at the Target Independence Day Celebration. She appeared with the Oakland Symphony again in June 2013 in A Celebration of the Music of Dave Brubeck performing alongside Frederica von Stade and Dave’s son Chris Brubeck. Christabel owes her passion and dedication for the arts to her mother who always pushed her to work hard and find her niche in life.


Torlef Borsting, Baritone, has been a career soloist and chorister in the Bay Area for 12 yrs. He has performed several roles on the mainstage at San Francisco Opera, served as a resident artist at Opera San Jose, as well as leading roles with every other company around the Bay. From Scarpia to the Brahms Requiem, Torlef has shown a wide range of style and character and now is drawn to explore new pieces and composers.



Conductor: Lucik Aprahamian

Director: Erin Neff


Lucik Aprahämian (Conductor) is on the faculty of the San Francisco Girls Chorus as Assistant Conductor and Level III Director, and as Music Director at First Lutheran Church of Palo Alto. She is also thrilled to begin her tenure as Music Director of the vocal group, Resound Ensemble. An avid exponent of new music, Aprahämian has commissioned and premiered works for a variety of performing forces. Aprahämian’s has a great passion for opera, and she can be seen on the podium as well as backstage working with sets, props, lighting, and directing. This summer she was the chorus-master of the San Francisco Girls Chorus for the San Francisco Opera production of Carmen. She received her bachelor’s degree in fortepiano performance practice and master’s degree in conducting from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and her doctorate in choral and orchestral conducting from the University of Arizona. She has studied conducting with Nicole Paiement, Bruce Chamberlain, Elizabeth Schauer, Thomas Cockrell, and Charles Bontrager, and voice and theatre production with Brian Staufenbiel.

Director Erin Neff  first appeared with Opera Parallele singing the role of Marget in Wozzeck and later appeared in The Great Gatsby. In 2016 she assisted director Brian Staufenbiel on the opera Champion. Additionally she has directed for the San Francisco Opera Center, Mendocino Music Festival, Island City Opera,  and The Telluride Music Festival. She was on Staff at UCSF from 1993-2003 teaching voice and currently maintains a private voice studio. An active singer, she has worked at the SF Opera Chorus since 1996. Most recently she was heard there as The Confidante in Elektra. 


Marcus Anthony Shelby is a bandleader, composer, arranger, bassist, educator, and activist who currently lives in San Francisco, California. Over the past 25 years he has built a diverse biography as a composer. His work and music has focused on sharing the history, present, and future of African American lives, on social movements in the United States of America, and on early childhood music education. In 1990, Marcus Shelby received the Charles Mingus Scholarship to attend Cal Arts and study composition with James Newton and bass with Charlie Haden. From 1990-1996, Shelby was bandleader of Columbia Records and GRP Impulse! Recording Artists Black/Note. Currently, Shelby is an artist in residence with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and the Artistic Director of the Marcus Shelby Orchestra. In 2013, Shelby received a MAP Fund Award and commission from the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival to compose “Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio” an original composition for big band orchestra about the“Prison Industrial Complex,” which premiered in September 2015. Shelby was awarded a 2009 Black Metropolis Research Consortium Fellowship in Chicago for Summer 2009 to conduct research for his commission to compose “Soul of the Movement”—a musical suite on MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. Shelby was also a 2006 Fellow in the Resident Dialogues Program of the Committee for Black Performing Arts at Stanford University to conduct research for his commission to compose “Harriet Tubman”—a musical suite based on the life of freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman. Shelby has worked extensively with the Healdsburg Jazz Festival from 2011-2015 leading their Black History programs in the Healdsburg Middle Schools. He has also been the Artistic Director and conductor for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival Freedom Jazz Choir, which is a 100-person community choir created by the Healdsburg Jazz Festival and Shelby in 2012. Shelby has also worked extensively in Bay Area Theater, Film, and Dance on a range of productions, such as composing scores for Anna Deveare Smith’s new play “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education”(2014), choreographer Joanna Haigood’s dance theater work “Dying While Black and Brown” (2014), Margo Hall’s plays “Bebop Baby” (2013) and “Sonny’s Blues” (2008), the Oakland Ballet’s “Ella” (2004), Robert Moses Kin’ Dance Company (2000), The Pacific Boy Choir (2009), The San Francisco Girls Choir (2013), The Oakland Youth Chorus (2014), and many other productions over the past 19 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since 2002, Shelby has worked with the Equal Justice Society and is currently commissioned to create a musical theater work with choreographer Joanna Haigood and director Stephen Anthony Jones about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shelby also has arranged for, toured, and conducted the Count Basie Orchestra featuring Ledisi, performed and recorded with Tom Waits, and received the City Flight Magazine 2005 award as one of the “Top Ten Most Influential African Americans in the Bay Area”. Shelby is active in music education and currently teaches at The Community Music Center, Old Adobe Elementary School, St. Paul’s Middle School, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop. Shelby has also led many of the San Francisco Jazz Festival Family Matinee Concerts, often with children’s book author Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket). In March 2013, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee appointed Shelby to the San Francisco Arts Commission where he serves on the Community Arts Grants and Education Committee and the Street Artists Committee.


Roma OlveraRoma Olvera is the Educational Programs Director for Opera Parallèle. She leads the three-tiered education program that commissions new works for children based on children’s books, develops original curriculum for engaging local high school students in main-stage contemporary opera productions, and hosts students of all ages in the Bay Area for final dress rehearsals throughout the season. Roma specializes in curriculum development that integrates music into every subject of standardized elementary and high school education. She has taught music for several school districts in southern California, as well as developed music programs for underserved communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York City. She has worked with Midori and Friends on a pilot music outreach program and Hofstra University on a teacher development through music program. She is also the librettist for OP’s children’s opera commissions. Harriet’s Spirit, to premiere in January 2018, is her third libretto. She also wrote Xochitl and the Flowers (2016) and Amazing Grace (2015). A lyric soprano, Roma holds a Bachelor of Music from UC Santa Cruz in Vocal Performance and a Masters of Music Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.


Having recently closed a two-plus-decade career at Apple, where she served as the first worldwide vice president of inclusion and diversity, Denise Young Smith is currently executive-in-residence at Cornell Tech, working with students and faculty to help them understand the value of true diversity and inclusion at early career stages. Known as one of the most powerful black women in Silicon Valley, Denise reported directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook and led the company’s ongoing efforts to diversify itself and to see its full ecosystem become as inclusive as possible. Prior to that role, she sat on the leadership team that built Apple’s retail organization, taking it from 20 to 428 stores globally. Denise also led HR for Apple’s Worldwide Operations and Corporate Employee Relations teams. She has been named a “Most Powerful Woman” by Ebony Magazine and Black Enterprise, has been one of “100 Most Influential in Silicon Valley” by Business Insider, and has been featured in Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women” issue. Outside the tech world, Denise is an accomplished soprano and vocal artist who has graced local and international recital halls—including Carnegie and SFJazz—with classical works, American spirituals and jazz standards. She will release her long-awaited solo debut album Denise Young Soprano early this year, featuring performances of multi-genre classics in collaboration with other exceptional, award-winning artists, including producers William “Tuck” and Patti Cathcart Andress. A graduate of Grambling State University in Louisiana, Denise holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications and a master’s degree in organizational management. She is the proud mother of artist Ian S. Young, most recently lauded for his contribution to downtown San Jose’s multicultural artistic landscape.


The Sam Mazza Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation established by the estate of our founder Sam Mazza in October of 2005. Since its inception the foundation has granted $6 Million dollars to qualified 501(c)(3) organizations who work to improve their communities through the arts, education, or addressing quality of life concerns.

The foundation has its headquarters in Pacifica, California and is currently governed by a diverse board of directors headed by Jeanette Cool, the foundation’s executive director.