The scars on his back

Set in and around Santa Fe, The scars on his back is a full-length opera about the events surrounding the 1680 Pueblo Revolt that was inspired by the legendary Native American freedom fighter Po’pay. Garnered from Pueblo accounts of the events, historical and fictional characters interweave to create a drama about what it is to live in a time of cultural resistance in the face of religious intolerance, racism and colonialism.

Po’pay’s Revolt – Historical Background

The Opera

The scars on his back synopsis

Composer’s statement


Act Two Scene 2 excerpt – Ku-tsa-yi and Pedro (video)  [Brianna Meese and David Rivera Bozón]

Act II – Pedro’s Aria (video)  [David Rivera Bozón]

Act III Scene 5 – Ku-tsa-yi’s aria  (video) “When the rain comes”  [Amanda Densmoor]


ORCHESTRAL INTERLUDES (parts and score available)

The Third Interlude, (recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, 7/7/22) between Act III Scenes Three and Four, is in two parts, opening with the music portraying the runners carrying the knotted ropes from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo to the outlying villages to begin the countdown to the Rebellion.  This music leads to the music depicting the (off stage) battle. Whilst the actual uprising was a multi-day encounter with long periods of stalemate, the opera condenses it into a single expression of an unstoppable rising of the spirit from quiet determination to implacable resistance and victory, however temporary.


Overture with Interlude One (digital) Opening with Po’pay’s “magic” music (multiple mallet instruments with long sustained string lines slowly falling from heaven to earth), the Overture introduces Po’pay’s ‘destiny’ chords (low brass) and the Pueblos’ short-lived ‘joy’ motif (three interlocking trumpet fanfares with high violins). The First Interlude, between the first two scenes of the opera, centers on feelings of foreboding and conflict as the opera transitions from Ku-tsa-yi’s hopes for the future expressed in Scene One (in spite of the Crone’s unsettling prophecy for Po’pay) to the cynical policies of the Spanish administration of the second scene.


The Second Interlude (digital) comes from the opening of Act III, starting with the prelude to the scene where the Governor will order further disciplinary measures against the Pueblos, and transitioning to music from the end of the scene when Pedro’s urging for a more nuanced approach has been crudely dismissed. The Interlude ends with music from the end of Act III Scene Two, after the raids, and expresses the Pueblos’ feeling of resignation.