premiered works

Harriet Tubman

Music and Libretto by Nkeiru Okoye

Based on the life of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman:
when I Crossed That Line to Freedom


Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom is a two act theatrical work that tells of how a young girl born in slavery, becomes Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor. Based on recent Tubman biographies, the story is narrated and told in the context of Tubman’s tight-knit family of lively characters. Harriet Tubman carries the universal themes of sisterhood, courage, sacrifice and doing what is necessary to keep a family together. Moreover it is a heartwarming tale of two sisters vowing that nothing but death will separate them, despite the slavery threatening to tear them apart.


Nkeiru Okoye  Composer / Librettist

Nkeiru Okoye
Composer / Librettist



I personally believe that [HARRIET TUBMAN] will enter the repertoire and be discussed with similar praise as George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess - this is a major composition, very worthy, and was greeted with well-deserved standing ovations!
— Sound Word Sight

“Okoye’s [Harriet Tubman] is an ensemble of achingly beautiful arias, duets, trios and choruses that recount the major episodes in Tubman’s career...”
—The Baltimore Sun

“The styles vary throughout the opera … from the Negro spirituals to the blues. The opera also contains elements of gospel, jazz and ragtime, and the perfect blend of all these styles makes Harriet Tubman a one-of-a-kind opera.”
—The Oberlin Review

“Okoye also shows a special affinity for gospel music, with its free and soaring melismas and its connotations of a robust and undaunted faith. Her use of gospel motifs gives Tubman’s great speeches a fittingly indelible intensity, “
—Cleveland Classical

“Those who want to know more about Harriet Tubman can turn to a magnificent new opera that illuminates her career and artfully sketches a compelling picture of her life. “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom” by composer Nkeiru Okoye is an example of American opera at its very best.”
—Hyde Park Herald


Duration 120' / Two Acts with intermission

Commission Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom was commissioned and developed by American Opera Projects in part with 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. www.arts.gov.

Premiere February 21st, 2014; Irondale Center, Brooklyn, NY; American Opera Projects; Leslie B. Dunner, conductor; Lemuel Wade, stage director

Roles (14+) HARRIET TUBMAN (Araminta Ross), protagonist – soprano ; RACHEL ROSS, her younger sister – soubrette ; BEN ROSS, her father – tenor ; RITTIA ROSS, her mother – contralto ; JOHN TUBMAN, her suitor – baritone ; SAM GREEN, Preacher and abolitionist / WILLIAM STILL, Abolitionist –tenor/baritone ; CAROLINE, An older woman on the plantation – contralto ; KEZZIAH, A woman on the plantation – soprano ; ROBERT ROSS, Harriet’s brother / MALE RUNAWAY – baritone ; EDWARD BRODESS, Plantation owner / OVERSEER PITTS – tenor ; SATB Chorus of Slaves, free Negroes, slave owners, farmers, townspeople, children, and abolitionists. Note about Casting: This production takes place in the years leading up to the American. As a matter of historical accuracy, casting is race specific. Blind casting is not permitted.

Instrumentation (6) Violin x2, Viola , Violoncello, Contrabass, Piano

Publisher Staged performances of this work require licensing through the composer.

Additional website: www.nkeiruokoye.com/harriet-tubman