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CD158   Elena Ruehr: Toussaint Before the Spirits



Elena Ruehr: Toussaint Before the Spirits

Madison Smartt Bell & Elizabeth Spires, libretto
Nicola Hawkins, choreography & dramatization

Opera Unlimited
Gil Rose, conductor
Stephen Salters, baritone

  • Complete libretto
  • 49'36" total playing time

CD158     $15.95

Purchase from Canticle Distributing

Toussaint Before the Spirits premiered at the Opera Unlimited Festival on the evening of June 7, 2003 in the Tower Auditorium at Massachusetts Collge of Art, Boston, Massachusetts.

Director/choreographer Nicola Hawkins
Conductor Gil Rose
Cafarelli William Hite
Toussaint Stephen Salters
Spirits Alison Buchanan
Moyse Ramone Diggs
The Ancestral Dead Chandra, Cantor
DeAnna Pellecchia
Jessica Reed
Ingrid Schatz
Houngan (Male Priest) Akili Jamal Haynes
Mambo (Female Priestess) Isaura Oliveira
Oboe Barbara LaFitte
Violin Joanna Kurkowicz
Wei-Pin Kuo
Viola Kate Vincent
Cello Ha-Yang Kim
Bass Pascale Delache-Feldman
Timpani Craig McNutt
Percussion Nathan Davis
Hans Morrison
Harpsichord Timothy Steele

Toussaint Before the Spirits was commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the American Composers Forum - Boston Area Chapter, with funds provided by the Boston Arts Fund and the Cherbec Advancement Foundation. Funding for the libretto was provided by Opera Boston.



Caffarelli descends to the French dungeon in which Toussaint is imprisoned, determined to take down his story. Toussaint laments his captivity, the trick that robbed him of his power in the revolt against the French. He learns that there is to be no trial, and even Caffarelli will not come to see him again.

He summons the Lwa, the spirits of his people (the role is sung by a soprano, who represents six different spirits, each standing for a different aspect of the spirit world.) Legba, the spirit of change, appears and warns Toussaint of his risk. He insists that his spirit is clear. Legba assures him that all of the spirits will speak to him in her voice.

She ushers Moyse, Toussaint's godson (also a spirit from the dead), to him. The two men argue over Toussaint's rule and its outcome, Toussaint insisting that he taught Moyse the ways of his new world, while Moyse rejoins that he learned only slavish service to the white man. Moyse accuses Toussaint of betraying his people into another slavery. Toussaint defends his decisions, saying that the people had to work to build the economy of the land.

Moyse evokes Ghede, the spirit of death, sex, and appetite. She cries, "How richly you fed me with death." Toussaint insists that he sought freedom, serving the spirit of harmony. Moyse evokes Ezili Fréda, the spirit of harmonious love. She agrees with Toussaint that he carried her in his head and heart, though she regrets that so many nonetheless had to die.

"Her eyes are red from weeping," says Moyse, and he summons her more violent aspect Ezili Dantor, a spirit of revolution, a spirit that asks for fire and blood. Though briefly caught up in it himself, Toussaint insists, "This blood rage is strong in you, Moyse."

It was this spirit that caused Moyse to raise a revolt against Toussaint, and who, in Toussaint's eyes, is the real betrayer of their freedom. Moyse denies it, asking "What spirit will support you in your claim?"

Toussaint summons Gran Bwa, the spirit of the forest and of healing. Through her, both Moyse and Toussaint realize that the Tree of Liberty cannot be destroyed and that all three of them embody the tree, whose "branches reach to heaven."

Notes from composer Elena Ruehr
Toussaint Before the Spirits is the result of my onging collaboration with baritone Stephen Salters and cheorographer Nicola Hawkins. For some time I had been considering writing an opera and had been searching for the best role for Stephen Salters to play. Stephen is a huge presence on stage, and because the multi-timbral quality of his voice lends itself to drama, I wa looking for a larger-than-life, tragic male role.

I was also very interested in using a harpsichord, as it seems to me that that instrument, more than any other, embodies the sound of opera. I began looking for historical figures from European history when the harpsichord was at its height, sometime between 1600-1800. When the Boston Modern Orchestra Project commissioned a new opera from me a short while later, I was reading Madison Smartt Bell's novel All Souls' Rising. Toussaint L'Ouverture, the main character of that book, was such a complex and tragic figure that casting Stephen as Toussaint seemed like a perfect fit. Nicola Hawkins and I worked together with Madison Smartt Bell and poet Elizabeth Spires from the very beginning to create a libretto that used both dancers and singers to propel the narrative forward.

Elena Ruehr Elena Ruehr (b. 1963) grew up in Michigan's rural upper peninsula, where she began studying piano and composition with her mother at the age of four. Dr. Ruehr also trained throughout her childhood in ballet and modern dance. She continued her studies in music composition at the University of Michigan and the Juilliard School of Music.

In addition to opera, Dr. Ruehr writes orchestral and chamber music, including four highly acclaimed string quartets, which have been commissioned and performed by the Cypress, Borromeo, and Shanghai Quartets. She was composer-in-residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (2000-2005), and has written orchestral works for BMOP, the Metamorphosen Chamber Ensemble (Shimmer available on Albany records), the Cincinnati Symphony, and the Omaha Symphony, among many others. She teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Madison Smartt Bell (co-librettist)
Madison Smartt Bell is the author of nine novels, including The Washington Square Ensemble (1983), Waiting for the End of the World (1985), Straight Cut (1986), The Year of Silence (1987), Doctor Sleep (1991), Save Me, Joe Louis (1993), Ten Indians (1997), and Soldier's Joy, which received the Lillian Smith Award in 1989. Mr. Bell has also published two collections of short stories: Zero db (1987) and Barking Man (1990). His eighth novel, All Souls' Rising was a finalist for the 1995 Natonal Book Award and the 1996 PEN/Faulkner Award, and winner of the 1996 Anisfield-Wolf Award for the best book of the year dealing with matters of race.

Born and raised in Tennessee, Mr. Bell has lived in New York and in London and now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Princeton University (A.B. 1979) and Hollins College (M.A. 1981), he has taught in various creative writing programs, including the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. Since 1984 he has taught the Goucher College Creative Program, where he is currently Professor of English, along with his wife, Elizabeth Spires. In 1999, Bell was appointed as Director of the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College.


Elizabeth Spires (co-librettist)
Elizabeth Spires is the author of five collections of poetry as well as several books for children. She has been the recipient of a Whiting Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1998 she received the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Maryland Author Award from the Maryland Library Association. Her poems have been featured on National Public Radio and have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The New Criterion, and in many anthologies, including Contemporary American Poetry (7th Edition), and The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, Madison Smartt Bell, and their daughter, and is Professor of English at Goucher College where she holds a Chair for Distinguished Achievement.

Nicola Hawkins (choreographer, director)
British-born Nicola Hawkins has been choreographing for and directing her company, the Nicola Hawkins Dance Company, for over twelve years to critical and public acclaim. The company has been presented by many educational institutions including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, and Rhode Island College, and has also been produced by New England's major performing arts presenters including Dance Umbrella, the Bank of America Celebrity Series, and World Music/Crash Arts, and has appeared at many venues including Boston's Symphony Hall and New York's St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery.

Ms. Hawkins has worked with all manner of musical ensembles and has collaborated with some of Boston's most noted composers and musicians. Currently she is directing Pagoda Projects, a performing arts project in Newfoundland, Canada. Her choreographic work with filmmakers has been shown worldwide, inclduing at the Lincoln Center and American Dance Festivals.

Ms. Hawkins was originally trained in the visual arts (Camberwell School, London, England and School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA) before being awarded a First Class Honors Degree in Expressive Arts from Brighton Polytechnic (Brighton, England). She also holds a Masters Degree in Dance Studies from the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance (London, England).

Stephen Salters (baritone)
Stephen Salters has developed as a concert singer, recitalist, and opera performer since receiving his Artist Diploma at Boston University. He received his boost into the elite in 1996 when he garnered multiple awards including First Place in the Queen Elizabeth International Competition of Singing. First Place in the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation International Vocal Competition, the Esther B. Kahn Career Entry Award, and National Winner of the Leontyne Price Vocal Arts Competition. Other honors include the George London Foundation Award in memory of Bruce Yarnell, First Prize in the Walter W. Naumberg International Competition, and two-time Marion Anderson Award nominee.

Mr. Salters operatic history includes performances in the productions of Robert Wilson's Madame Butterfly, Alfredo Aria's Carmen, and Steine Winge's and Gunther Kramer's Tristan und Isolde. In concert settings he has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the National Arts Center Orchestra, and at Aldeburgh, Banff, Edinburgh, Ravinia, Tanglewood, and BAM's New Wave Festival.

Ramone Diggs (tenor)
Ramone Diggs is a recent graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music under the direction of department head Mikael Eliasen (and vocal teacher Patricia McCaffrey). He has appeared in the Opera Company of Philadelphia's productions of Carment (Remendado), Porgy and Bess (Peter), and La Pèrichole (First Judge) with famed opera singer Denyce Graves. With the Curtis Opera Theatre he has appeared in L'Heure Espagnole (Gonsalve), Les Mamelles de Tirésias (Le Couf), and The Rake's Progress (Sallem). Mr. Diggs has also appeared as Ernesto in Don Pasquale (Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, CA), Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Ferrando in Così fan Tutte, Don Otavio in Don Giovanni, and Chevalier de la Force in Dialgues des Carmelites.

In 2001 Mr. Diggs gave his New York and Los Angeles recital debuts as a winner of the Marilyn Horne Foundation Award Competition. In conjunction with his recital work, he was honored with the opportunity to perform Liszt's Tre sonetti Di Petrarca with reknowned accompanist Warren Jones. Mr. Diggs has also participated in Master Classes with such famed artists as Marilyn Horne, Thomas Hampson, Warren Jones, Tom Krause, and Peter Schreier. He has been a winner of the Mario Lanza Competition in Philadelphia and the National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition in Texas.

Alison Buchanan (soprano)
British soprano Alison Buchanan has toured Europe and America building a wide-ranging repertoire. A graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Ms. Buchanan has accrued a collection of honors. She has climbed to the top of the Maggie Teyte, Washington International, Pavarotti, and Kathleen Ferrier Competitions, as well as being a finalist in the Belvedere Competition.

Ms. Buchanan's operatic history features such roles as Mimi in La Boheme and Micaela in Carmen at the San Francisco Opera, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and Bess in Porgy and Bess for the New York City Opera, and Venus in Orpheus and the Underworld at Opera Holland Park, along with solo work with Sir Colin Davis.

Wliiam Hite (tenor)
William Hite's operatic credits include the title roles in The Rake's Progress, Acis and Galatea, Jephtha, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, and Cavalli's L'Ormindo, as well as the role of Roderick Usher in the world premiere of the Philip Glass opera The Fall of the House of Usher at the American Repertory Theater and the Kentucky Opera. He performed the role of Orfeo in Peri's Euridice with the Long Beach Opera nad has been a regular at the Boston Early Music Festival in period stagings of Monteverdi and Rossi's Orfeo, and Cavalli's Ercole amante and King Arthur.

As a soloist, Mr. Hite has appeared with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the American Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, Washington Bach Consort, New York City Ballet, National Arts Center Orchestra (Ottawa), Handel & Haydn Society, Boston Baroque, Emmanuel Music, Tafelmusik, and Philharmonia Baroque. He has worked with conductors Seiji Ozawa, Rafeal Frübeck de Burgos, Nicholas McGegan, Christopher Hogwood, Robert Spano, Grant Llewellyn, Leon Botstein, John Harbison, Craig Smith, and Peter Schreier. He has sung at the Tanglewood, Santa Fe, Monadnock, Banff, and Vancouver music festivals, as well as the Vermont Mozart Festival. In Europe he has performed at the Athens Festival, Academie Musicale in Sainte, Aix-en-Provence, and the Holland Early Music Festival. Mr. Hite is a member of the voice faculty at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a Guest Artist at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.


Gil Rose (conductor)
Gil Rose is recognized as one of a new generation of American conductors shaping the future of classical music. His orchestral and operatic performances and recordings have been recognized by critics and fans alike. In 1996, Gil Rose founded the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), one of the few professional orchestras in the country dedicated exclusively to performing and recording music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Under his leaderhip, BMOP's unique programming and high performance standards have attracted critical acclaim and earned the ensemble seven ASCAP awards for adventurous programming. Since 2003, Mr. Rose has also served as Music Director of Opera Boston, an innovative opera company in residence at the historic Cutler Majestic Theatre.

As a guest conductor, Mr. Rose made his Tanglewood Festival debut in 2002 conducting Lukas Foss's opera Griffelkin, a work he recorded for Chandos and released in 2003 to rave reviews. He has led the American Composers Orchestra, the West Bohemian Symphony Orchestra in the Czech Republic, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, as well as recent appearances with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players including a performance with this reknowned ensemble at the Seiji Ozawa Hall 10th Anniversary Concert.

Mr. Rose as chosen as the "Best Conductor of 2003" by Opera Online.

Opera Unlimited
In June of 2003, Opera Boston and Boston Modern Orchestra Project collaborated on the launch of Opera Unlimited, the first chamber opera festival devoted entirely to contemporary music. In the Tower Auditorium at Massachusetts College of Art, the companies presented five fully-staged chamber operas in six days, including two world premieres: Toussaint Before the Spirits, by Elena Ruehr, and The Cask of Amontillado, by Daniel Pinkham. The festival also presented the New England Premiere of Thomas Adès's controversial opera Powder Her Face.

This groundbreaking event made Boston an important international opera destination, was awarded a grant for innovation by the City of Boston, and was widely acclaimed by The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and The Phoenix, as well as The Financial Times and other international publications. The festival played to sold-out houses and was named the Best Opera of 2003 by The Boston Globe.

This recording was made possible in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Research fund; and by a grant from E.C. Schirmer Music Company Inc., Boston, Massachusetts. The composer offers special thanks to Tim Gillette and Seward Rutkove.

Producer: Gil Rose
Engineering, editing and mastering: Joel Gordon