Mural by Julie Brown*

OPERA THEATER OREGON is excited to announce a new intercultural collaboration with Aqai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone culture bearer and descendant of Sacajawea, Rose Ann Abrahamson.  Sacajawea or Saca-tza-we-ya: That is Her Burden will reimagine the extraordinary Shoshone woman who was a crucial member of the historic 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition, from her Aqai-Dika Indigenous perspective in a new opera-theater work.

“Given this name as a child, according to Aqai Dika naming traditions, ‘Sacatzaweya’ (pronounced Saca-ja-we-ya) means ‘That is her burden’…We are telling Sacajawea’s story, her story, from an Aqai Dika perspective from her female familial descendants and people, a woman’s story from women.  This story will share tradition, history and culture of Sacajawea from the viewpoint and oral history of the women of her people.  The songs will express these aspects, and most importantly her language will be preserved through operatic songs.” 

~Rose Ann Abrahamson 

On November 4, 1804 Sacajawea is first mentioned by William Clark as one of “wives” of Toussaint Charbonneau, stating “we engau him to go on with us and take one of his wives to interpet the Snake language.” (‘Snake’ being another name for the Shoshone). Little did Lewis and Clark know just how crucial Sacajawea and her people would be to the expedition’s success or that she would endure as one the most famous members of the expedition. She remains one of the most famous women in American history, yet few have told her story from her Aqai-Dika perspective. Last month our nation celebrated our first official Indigenous People’s Day and this month we honor November as Native American Heritage Month. This project aims to honor, through opera, the remarkable contributions and unique experience of Indigenous peoples, past, present, and future.

Rose Ann Abrahamson and Justin Ralls at the Sacajawea Education, Interpretive and Cultural Center in Salmon, Idaho – the ancestral homeland of the Aqai-Dika people.

We are incredibly fortunate to be collaborating and guided by Rose Ann Abrahamson, great-great-grandniece of Sacajawea, through Chief Cameahwait (brother of Sacajawea), and great-great granddaughter of Chief Tendoy (son of Chief Cameahwait). Rose Ann is an educator, storyteller, culture bearer, historian, and respected tribal stateswoman of the Aqai-Dika (“Salmon Eaters”) Lemhi-Shoshone Nation and an enrolled member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, located in Fort Hall, Idaho. We are also thrilled to collaborate with Shoshone composer, singer, and flutist Hovia Edwards Yellowjohn.

The first stage in the development of this new work will culminate with a workshop and public performance of a scene based on an incident of domestic violence recorded in the original expedition journals on August 14, 1805 and will be presented in Portland, Oregon. We are excited that work on this scene has already begun, including the completion of a libretto featuring English, Québécois, Agai-Dika/Shoshone, and Plains Sign Language!

Stay tuned for future project developments.

Updates on cast, collaborators, production dates, community partners and more to be announced!

Please consider supporting this exciting project today! Contributions and artist sponsorships are tax-deductible!

CREATIVE TEAM

Rose Ann Abrahamson – Librettist, Aqai-Dika Culture and Language Consultant

Rose Ann Abrahamson is a recognized authority on the Lemhi Shoshone Cultural History and Language, Governor appointed member of the Idaho Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Committee, and President of Sacajawea Interpretive & Cultural Institute. She served as the Cultural Program Coordinator for tribal gatherings and events for the 2002 Olympics and has served as an educational, historical, and cultural speaker at regional and national events, including: Mistress of Ceremonies for the National Academic Decathlon, April 2004, January 2003 – December 2004 – Lectured at the Smithsonian, St. Louis, Missouri, Sioux City, Iowa, Buffalo Bill Museum, Montana State University, Eastern Washington State University Outstanding Teachers of America, 2002. In 2002 she received the Outstanding Teachers of America Award as well as the Outstanding Young Women in America, 1989. She was instrumental in the creation of the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural and Educational Center in her ancestral homeland in the Salmon and Lemhi River Valleys of Idaho. She has served as a consultant on numerous films, documentaries, and projects including the U.S. Mint design of the Sacagawea Golden dollar, issued from 2000-2008. In 2001 she met President Bill Clinton at the White House to accept Sacajawea’s posthumous Honorary Sergeant designation in the Corps of Discovery. Recent collaborations include consulting on the Confluence Project mural of Sacajawea at the Vancouver School for the Arts in Vancouver, WA.

Hovia Edwards Yellowjohn – Composer, Shoshone Music, Language and Cultural Consultant

Hovia Edwards Yellowjohn (pronounced hoo-vee-ya) of Shoshone-Navajo-Okanogan heritage is a flutist, composer, and cultural leader.  At  only 14 she recorded her first album in January of 1998, Morning Star, “Hovia performs original & traditional melodies in a style that is youthful yet with a surprising maturity for an artist so young” (Canyon Records).  Her father, Herman Edwards is a performer & flute maker & encouraged her from early childhood to master the flute.  Hovia is a second generation flutist & has grown up performing around the world & soloist at the Scottsdale Center for the Art in Arizona. Hovia has contributed to  numerous projects as a performer and composer, including collaborations with recording artist Robert Tree Cody and Academy-Award winning actor and film producer, Wes Studi.  She currently serves as Event Coordinator for the Language and Culture Department of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe.

…….

Justin Ralls – Composer

Justin Ralls, award-winning composer and conductor hails from the Pacific Northwest. His music has been presented at the Hydansaal in Eisenstadt, Austria, the Lucca International Youth Orchestra Festival in Albano Terme, Italy, Oregon Bach Festival, Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Britt Festival at Crater Lake National Park, the Newman Scoring Stage in Los Angeles, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland and more. Ralls’ work has been described as “a beautifully textured, lush evocation of John Muir’s Yosemite that was full of color and light” (Daily Gazette, NY), “a gifted melodist…”(Artslandia), and “a whirlwind of thick orchestral textures…definitely establishing his own voice…” (SF Examiner). Composer John Adams spoke of Tree Ride as “impressive…showing a mastery of orchestral technique.” Ralls’ works have been performed by a variety of soloists and ensembles including Eugene Opera, Albany Symphony (NY), San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra,  Third Angle Ensemble, Roomful of Teeth. In 2017 Opera Theater Oregon produced the world premiere of Ralls’ chamber opera, Two Yosemites: An Environmental Opera, setting the 1903 meeting of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, featuring tenor Aaron Short and baritone Nicholas Meyer – “Ralls took this thematic coloring to the next level, in the finest operatic tradition” (Oregon Arts Watch). Ralls’ education includes degrees from The Boston Conservatory, the San Francisco Conservatory, and his Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of Oregon including research in “Nature, New Media, and Indigenous Thought.” Ralls has volunteered for the Siuslaw Institute, assisting in a cultural exchange between the Siletz Tribe of Oregon and Itelmen Tribe of Kamchatka, Russia; as well as environmental non-profit, Pacific Environment’s cultural exchange of Russian environmental leaders and U.S. environmental groups including Indigenous leaders of the Shor Tribe of Kemerovo-Oblast, Russia. Ralls enjoys reading in the outdoors, and spending time with his wife, cat, dog, and four chickens. 

Katherine Goforth – Dramaturge

American vocalist Katherine Goforth shares her “noble, colorful and iridescent vocal sound” (Magazin Klassik) in strong and heartfelt performances. “Goforth, with [her] virile voice, does not hold back,” (The New York Times) offering vivid character portraits sung with the utmost commitment and finesse. Winner of the 2019 Oregon District Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions and the 2019 National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Awards regional competition, she is a distinctive vocalist, representing the best of next generation operatic talent. 

A transgender woman, Goforth excels in a wide-range of roles across the gender spectrum. She is a proud representative of LGBTQ community and advocates for the inclusion of all voices in the performing arts. A member of the International Opera Studio of Oper Köln for the 2018/19 season, Katherine sang Il Conte di Bandiera in Salieri’s La Scuola dei Gelosi in the Kammeroper, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte für Kinder and 3rd Jew in Salome on the main stage. Of these performances, The German Stage noted that Katherine was “stunningly charming,” the General-Anzeiger wrote that her “tenor projects clearly… (and her) pianopassages reveal lyric qualities as well,” and Opern Magazin stated that she “rose to the highest form.”

Other recently acclaimed roles include performances with the Aquilon Festival as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, Don Basilio in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and Le Musicien in Lully’s La chûte de Phaëton. She has also appeared as a soloist with the Oregon and Seattle Symphonies, Opera Theater Oregon, the Portland Chamber Orchestra, in live radio broadcast on All Classical Portland, and in concert with Pink Martini. Goforth sang in the World Premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s celebrated new opera Crossing, as part of a small ensemble cast directed by Diane Paulus, with performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and American Repertory Theatre.

A graduate of the Juilliard School and St. Olaf College, Goforth also participated in master courses at Franz Schubert Institut, Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, Heidelberger Frühling Liedakademie, Georg Solti Accademia, and masterclasses sponsored by the Richard Tucker Foundation. She is an Instructor of Voice at Clark College, has taught at the Aquilon Music Festival, and formerly served on the board of Opera Theater Oregon where she was actively involved in producing new operatic work. Prior performances may also be found under her birth name, William Goforth.

*Above image: Mural panel by Julie Brown, located at Vancouver School for the Arts, as part of Confluence Project. Sacajawea portrait based on Rose Ann Abrahamson’s daughter, Willow Abrahamson.

PROJECT SPONSORS, THANK YOU!

Ronni Lacroute