The story of Sacajawea glowed in a new, Indigenous-centered Opera Theater Oregon production...

Photo credit: Keith Caspar

Photo: Willow Abrahamson, familial descendant of Sacajawea. Used with permission.

A new opera that reimagines the story of Sacajawea, the extraordinary Agai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone woman who was a crucial member of the historic 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition, from her Agai-Dika, Indigenous perspective and oral history and language of her familial descendants. 

Libretto by Rose Ann Abrahamson

Music by Hovia Edwards and Justin Ralls

Saturday, May 13 | 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, May 14 | 2 p.m.

Hinckley Studio Theatre
Hampton Opera Center 

Sung in Aqai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone, Québécois French, English, and also including Native American Sign Language (with English supertitles).


In an historic first, Opera Theater Oregon brought the story of Sacajawea centerstage with captivating intensity

Marion Newman–one of Canada’s foremost mezzo-sopranos… poured warmth, hopefulness, and longing into her singing of the Lemhi-Shoshone Agai-Dika language.

Unleashing his declamatory baritone, Gibbs, as Clark… provided a calming presence that made me wonder what would happen next.

A highlight of performance was the soothing sound of the Native American flute, played with stunning, expressive refinement by Edwards… Edwards deftly switched between several flutes

Ralls created lovely soundscapes that combined the Native flutes with a chamber orchestra…. His music shifted organically – from languid to joyful to tense – and it all worked well to set the scene and convey the drama. His conducting was very energetic and clear, and that communicated well to the orchestral ensemble, which sat at a formidable distance on the other side of the stage...

The performance was done with traditional costumes and a simple but effective stage setting that had all of the necessary ingredients...

Abrahamson emphasized how she wanted the opera to be told from Sacajawea’s perspective. That especially came across with Newman’s singing…


Photo Credit: Josh Orchard / OTO; Keith Caspar


On May 13-14, 2023 OTO premiered a 35-minute scene of Nu Nah-Hup: Sacajawea’s Story. This new work in development reimagines the story of Sacajawea, the extraordinary Agai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone woman who was a crucial member of the historic 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition, from her Agai-Dika, Indigenous perspective. 

The scene will be presented alongside excerpts of music, soundscapes, and presentations of traditional Agai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone music, language, and culture by Rose Ann Abrahamson and also features Native American Flutist and composer Hovia Edwards with chamber orchestra. Our presented scene is based on an incident of domestic violence recorded in the original expedition journals on August 14, 1805.*

This production is the first stage in the development of a full length opera. We are currently developing producing partners to commission and premiere this new work. Become a part of history and empower Indigenous culture on the operatic stage. For information on our commission consortium please contact: Lisa Lipton, lisa.lipton@operatheateroregon.com and Justin Ralls, justin.ralls@operatheateroregon.com


We are thrilled to announce an internationally renowned cast to realize this work including Kwagiulth and Stó:lō First Nations mezzo-soprano, Marion Newman premiering the role of Sacajawea. Joining her are baritones, Richard Zeller, who will portray Toussaint Charbonneau, and Dan Gibbs as Captain William Clark.

We are honored our production will feature originally commissioned traditional deer dress, leggings, moccasins and traditional Agai-Dika cradleboard crafted by Rose Ann Abrahamson and her sister, Rozina George as well as a reproduction of Sacajawea’s historic blue bead belt, crafted by Leela Abrahamson, Rose Ann’s daughter. Rose Ann’s daughter, Dustina Abrahamson, will also design traditional hair and makeup for Marion Newman’s portrayal of their ancestor, Sacajawea.

Leela Abrahamson, photo courtesy of Rose Ann Abrahamson

“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, descendent of Sacajawea and Aqai-Dika culture bearer 

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. August, 2021. (Photo Credit: Anne Polyakov)
Hovia and Justin in Pocatello, Idaho. December, 2021. (Photo Credit: Anne Polyakov)

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-Bannock composer, singer, and flutist Hovia Edwards.


Lisa Lipton, Rose Ann Abrahamson, Justin Ralls, Janiene Big Day, and Audrey Ponzo meeting for a recording session in Pocatello, Idaho.

A crucial aspect of this opera project is our efforts to preserve Agai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone language and oral histories. This exciting project designed by Rose Ann Abrahamson, linguist Jennifer Mitchell from the The Shoshoni Language Project at the University of Utah, and Artistic Director, Dr. Justin Ralls will help document and preserve the endangered Agai-Dika dialect and language. The team is honored to have recently received the 2022 Native Voices Endowment Award from the Endangered Language Fund at Yale University, as well as a 2022 Grants for Arts Projects Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.



SACAJAWEA: A critically acclaimed mezzo-soprano of Kwagiulth and Stó:lō First Nations with English, Irish and Scottish heritage, Marion Newman was born in Bella Coola and grew up in Sooke, BC. She is one of Canada’s most accomplished singers in repertoire from Vivaldi to Vivier. As Carmen, the Irish Examiner noted “she sparked an electricity which totally engrossed the audience with her superbly sinuous sexuality… Prudes may raise their eyebrows at the sensuality of this Carmen; theatre goers will clamour for more.” Nominated for a Dora Award for her leading role in the world premiere of Shanawdithit (Nolan/Burry) with Toronto’s Tapestry Opera, Ian Ritchie wrote “she invests her character with towering dignity and courage.” Marion portrayed Dr. Wilson in the premiere of Missing (Clements/Current) with Vancouver City Opera/Pacific Opera Victoria, which gives voice, in English and Gitxsan, to the story of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. Highlights for the 2022/23 season include her debut with Anchorage Opera in Missing, Cantaloube’s Chants d’Auvergne with Vancouver Island Symphony, Messiah with Vancouver Bach Choir, Bruckner’s Te Deum and the world premiere of Stephanie Martin’s Water with Grand Philharmonic Choir and Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Marion has sung many works that speak to her First Nations identity, including a Canada-wide tour of Ancestral Voices (Tovey) with the Vancouver Symphony and Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx – Singing the Earth (Höstman/Robinson) with the Victoria and Vancouver Symphonies and Continuum Concerts in Toronto. Marion is a Co-Founder of Amplified Opera and the host of CBC’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.


TOUSSAINT CHARBONNEAU: “A commanding presence housing a brilliant vocal instrument,” (Oregon Music News) American baritone Richard Zeller consistently receives high acclaim. For his portrayal of Scarpia, the Calgary Herald commended his “entirely authentic and wholly dominating” performance, characterized by “flawless vocal mastery.” He has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera in such roles as Marcello in La Bohème, Ernesto in Il Pirata, Eddie in A View from the Bridge, Coroebus in Les Troyens, and Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor. His other opera appearances include with Scottish Opera, Hamburgische Staatsoper, Deutsche Opera am Rhein, Portland Opera, San Diego Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, English National Opera at the Barbican in London, Opera de Bordeaux, Opera de Vichy, and Portland Opera. Concert appearances include solos with the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Huntsville Symphony. Richard Zeller’s recordings include the critically acclaimed Merry Mount by Howard Hanson and Deems Taylor’s Peter Ibbettson, both with Naxos, and the world premiere of Henri Lazarof’s Fifth Symphony on Centaur Records, all recorded with Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

WILLIAM CLARK: Baritone Dan Gibbs is an emerging young artist who makes his Portland Opera debut this spring as The Hunter in Dvoråk’s Rusalka. Dan’s credits include: studio recording and performance as a member and troupe baritone with Cult of Orpheus, as a featured baritone soloist in Vaughn Williams’ Five Mystical Songs and Dona Nobis Pacem with the Oregon Chorale and the Beaverton Symphony Orchestra; as Vodnik in LAH-SOW’s PDX concert performance of Dvořák’s Rusalka; as Papageno in Mozart’s The Magic Flute; and as Wotan in Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Dan maintains a private teaching studio offering voice, guitar, and piano lessons, is a section leader and cantor at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, and sings as a member of the Portland Opera chorus. He earned his B.A. in Music with an emphasis on Vocal Performance from Southern Oregon University, under the direction of Dr. Paul French.  

More members of Creative Team to be announced soon!


Rose Ann Abrahamson – Creative Lead, Librettist, Agai-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 – Composer, Shoshone Music, Language and Cultural Consultant

Hovia Edwards (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 and 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 and flute maker, and encouraged her from early childhood to master the flute.  Hovia is a second-generation flutist and has grown up performing around the world and 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, Producer

Writing music that is “beautifully textured… full of color and light,” (Daily Gazette, NY) Justin Ralls is an award-winning composer and conductor that reflects his upbringing in the Pacific Northwest. “A gifted melodist…” (Artslandia) who offers “a whirlwind of thick orchestral textures…definitely establishing his own voice,” (SF Examiner) Ralls’ 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. Composer John Adams spoke of Tree Ride as “impressive…showing a mastery of orchestral technique.” Soloists and ensembles that perform Ralls’ work include the Eugene Opera, Albany Symphony (NY), San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra,  Third Angle Ensemble, and Roomful of Teeth. With the world premiere of his chamber opera, Two Yosemites: An Environmental Opera, setting the 1903 meeting of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, “Ralls took this thematic coloring to the next level, in the finest operatic tradition.” (Oregon ArtsWatch) Ralls’ education includes degrees from The Boston Conservatory, the San Francisco Conservatory, and a 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… does not hold back,” (The New York Times) offering vivid character portraits sung with the utmost commitment and finesse.

In 2022-23, Goforth was a featured speaker and performer at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s fourth Women in Classical Music Symposium where she was chosen to receive a Career Advancement Award by classical singer Julia Bullock, with whom she shared a joint recital. She sang the tenor solo in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Bozeman Symphony, Walla Walla Symphony, and Yakima Symphony, the tenor solo in Puccini’s Messa di Gloria with Vancouver Symphony (USA), and recorded Elisabeth Claude Jacquet de la Guerre’s Ester with Byron Schenkman. Outside of classical music, Goforth appeared in straight plays as Rebbetzin Tzurris in a reading of Dan Kitrosser’s Why This Night for Artists Repertory Theatre and as Emily Webb in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town for Fuse Theatre Ensemble.

Goforth received her Bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College, her Master’s degree from The Juilliard School, was a member of the International Opera Studio of Opera Köln, and attended the Franz Schubert Institut, Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, Heidelberger Frühling Liedakademie, Georg Solti Accademia, and Boston Wagner Institute. She is an Instructor of Voice at Clark College.

Upcoming, Goforth will appear in Philip Venables and Ted Huffman’s The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions (based on Larry Mitchell’s 1977 novel of the same name) which premieres Summer 2023 at Manchester International Festival, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, and Bregenzer Festspiele. katherinegoforth.com

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


Ronni Lacroute

Marilyn Crilley and George Rowbottom