Toussaint Before the Spirits

Toussaint Before the Spirits, with libretto by National Book Award-winning author Madison Smart Bell and poet Elizabeth Spires, tells the story of the Haitian hero of the 1790s, Toussaint L’Ouverture, in the final moments before his death in a French prison.  As he recounts the story of his life to the gods, he is gradually transformed into a near-deity himself.  The work explores issues of colonization and slavery while addressing economic issues that continue to impact our world today.  A tour-de-force for a black baritone, this opera juxtaposes a Mozart inspired sound with contrapuntal drumming and contemporary dance.

Length:  50 Minutes

STTB, Ob, 2 perc, Timp, Harpsichord, Vln, vln, vla, vcl, CB

Status—Complete, premiered and recorded





… had the audience on its feet, cheering, whistling, and applauding…combines a lyrical outpouring energized by motor rhythms that never become mechanical…compelling, emotional, theatrical….takes us back to the beginnings of the art, and to one of the first great operas, Gluck’s Orfeo.
-Richard Dyer, BOSTON GLOBE

This impressive chamber opera is an illuminating historical musical fantasy…
-Joshua Rosenblum, OPERA NEWS

Cassandra in the Temples

Synopsis:  CASSANDRA IN THE TEMPLES, with libretto by award-winning writer Gretchen Henderson, ecologically reimagines an ancient apocalyptic story in the era of climate change. Following the mythic seer who was fated to foretell the future and not be believed, the opera revives Cassandra as a chorus to reanimate her life and mythic afterlife. Framed by a contemporary pilgrimage to her grave, Cassandra’s presence “in the temples” refers not only to the ancient setting but also to the temples of her head. As her voice disperses in the natural world through hurricanes, whalesongs, and animal languages that surpass human hearing, the work engages climate change that impacts our world today. Written for eight voices, without instruments, this opera questions our ability to listen for voices that often go unheard.

Length:  50 Minutes

Scored for 8 Singers (SSAATTBB)

Status—Complete, premiered


Sample score

Not for the Moon, I Mourn


“a thought-provoking and richly layered experience.”—The Boston Music Intelligencer

“Ruehr’s nebulous harmonies and extravagant polyphony conjured wind and wave and flights of birds and refracted moonlight”—The Boston Globe 

Crafting the Bonds

Synopsis: CRAFTING THE BONDS, with libretto by award-winning writer Gretchen Henderson, tells the story of discovery of The Bondwoman’s Narrative: the earliest known novel written by an African American woman, Hannah Bond, who used the pseudonym of Hannah Crafts as a fugitive slave. The opera spans two centuries to explore the afterlives of stories as history resonates in our time. Framed by contemporary events, which include the 2001 auction where her manuscript was bought by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and, more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement, the opera follows Hannah writing her story, risking her life as she wrote toward freedom. A tour-de-force for a black soprano and baritone, alongside other leading roles, the opera is written as an unfinished story whose ending can be adapted to the locale of whatever community produces it.

Scored for (SSAATBB), Chorus, Strings

Status: not premiered, first reading June 2017


Crafting the Bonds PV 040917

Cosmic Cowboy

Synopsis: This space odyssey explores colonization through the lens of the ancient past and the near future.  The ancient Sumerian goddess of creation, Tiamat,  created gods and humans through cosmic warfare.  Her grandson, Marduk kills her and seizes the cosmic power for himself.  Only Tia, Tiamat’s youngest child, stands between him and total hegemony.  Together with a space probe, Cooper, Tia fights to the death against the forces of oppression and totalitarianism.  A modern day Magic Flute, its essential essence is of fantasy and light, while exploring through metaphor, the effect of colonization on our current world.  A feast for the eyes, the multi-media production includes a robotic ballet with an industrial robot and a virtual reality experience of the Big Bang.

Scored for S, CT, T, Bar, B, chorus, children’s choir, trp, 2 hn, trb, keyboard, strings

Status:  To be premiered by White Snake Projects, Sept. 2020

Score, Act I

Cosmic Cowboy Act I Score.pdf

When Night Comes

SynopsisWhen Night Comes peels away the layers of stigma and shame often associated with the overdose deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans who, for many reasons, could not manage their lives.  Rather than an act of defiance or degeneracy, opioid addiction is recast as the human tragedy it is–one that continues to destabilize and destroy American families across the country. The humanity of this epidemic is captured through the tale of 27-year-old Lucian, a vulnerable young man who moves from “dark” New England to the illuminated skies of Colorado, hoping to find love and begin life anew.

Link to recording


Darkness, You come too soon, 3 PV – Score

A Member of the Wedding

Synopsis: The Member of the Wedding is an adaptation of Carson McCullers’ beloved play and novel that tells the story of thirteen year old Frankie Adams’ “crazy summer” in the 1940’s south.  It is a summer when she desperately wants to belong but can find no one to connect with except her maid and her even younger neighbor, John Henry.  It is late August.  Her older brother, Jarvis, a soldier, is stationed nearby and about to get married.  Frankie discovers that she has fallen in love with her brother’s wedding and feverishly plans to go home with Jarvis and his bride after the wedding.  When she discovers that her dream of joining them was just that, a dream, she begins her painful journey to young adulthood. Channeling Copland and Bernstein, written at the time of McCuller’s story, this new work hopes to bridge the gap between musical theater and opera.

Status:  proposed and searching production, one aria complete



Tomorrow I’m Going to Town – Score

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage


Based on Sydney Padua’s award winning graphic novel “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage” this proposed comic opera tells the story of Ada Lovelace, mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron, whose collaborative work with Charles Babbage eventually led to the invention of the computer. Like the novel, this story goes on a fantasy quest, where Babbage and Lovelace use their difference engine to save the universe. This proposed work could be as small as 4 characters, a string quartet and prepared piano. It could of course be larger. The sound world will walk a line between Rossini comic opera and modern music. The staging would incorporate visual ideas from the graphic novel, and Sydney Padua would be an active participant in the process. Proposed libretto by Royce Vavrek and Sydney Padua.

Link to Sydney Padua: