Toussaint Before the Spirits
Released: July 17, 2007
Catalog Number: CD158
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.
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."
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.