Last Friday, I posted a Take Five list of worthy music about abolitionist and revolutionary John Brown. I was actually inspired to do so by my inadvertent discovery that a new opera, entitled simply John Brown, received its world premiere earlier this month at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City!
Composed over nearly 20 years by Kirke Mechem, who also wrote the libretto himself, it received several deeply favorable reviews. One in the National Catholic Reporter closed,
Profound and haunting, it may be as close to an American epic as anything yet written.To read the libretto--downloadable pdf available here--is to find great liberties taken with the details of John Brown's life, but it is very hard indeed to find distortion of the man or of his historic accomplishments. Mechem explains Brown and his battles without apology and in the afterward in the Lyric Opera program rejects modern charges that he was "a terrorist."
Need I say that the major premise behind my opera is that the abolition of slavery was the foremost issue of the nineteenth century and John Brown its most representative man?And he adds:
It always amazes me to hear John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry denounced by Americans who glorify the colonial farmers who killed British soldiers on their way back from Concord. As if “taxation without representation” was in any way commensurate with slavery.Interestingly, as with works by composer David Soldier and by singer/songwriters Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino of Magpie (both plugged here last Friday), Mechem uses the powerful words of Frederick Douglass to frame the closing of his story.
I can only hope that, like Mechem's earlier Tartuffe, this becomes something of a modern standard in the opera world, so that I may someday see its New York premiere. Or at least that somebody brings out a CD of John Brown most ricky-tick!
Until then here is the Central Connecticut State University Chorale performing "Dan-u-el" from Scene 2, Act 1. Read more!