Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hudson's John Brown Hero of New Opera in Kansas City

A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting composer Kirke Mechem of San Francisco who was visiting Hudson with his wife in order to experience the town where John Brown grew up. Mechem had spent nearly 20 years writing an opera based on the life of the Abolitionist leader who led the Raid on Harpers Ferry. I had the opportunity to show him "John Brown's Hudson" which included a stop at Old Tannery Farm and the house where Brown and his wife, Dianthe, lived with their young sons in the early 1820's. The opera was ready for production, but it took several more years to reach the stage.

Earlier this month "John Brown" had its premiere at Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and opened to triumphal reviews, the libretto already being hailed as "a new American classic". A close friend who grew up in Hudson and now lives in Kansas City went to the opera and met composer Mechem and had him autograph a poster for me. Subsequently, Mechem sent a message saying he had enjoyed meeting my friend and recalling his visit to Hudson. He is confident this opera will be staged in other cities, perhaps in Cincinnati in the near future.

I also shared this news with WRA music department leaders Midge Karam and Ed Wiles who were acquainted with the composer's works, and Midge told me that the choir had sung one of his compositions a few years ago. Perhaps they'll be able to adapt one of the choral numbers from the new opera. "John Brown, Hero" was a headline story in the Kansas City Star, and so the story of this legendary figure from Hudson's history marches on. John Brown's father was a founding trustee of the old Western Reserve College, and both of his parents are buried at the Chapel Street Cemetery adjacent to the campus of Western Reserve Academy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Arthur Hopkins, Class of 1900, Became Noted Broadway Producer

When Arthur Hopkins and several of his brothers came to WRA in the late 19th century, there was very little in the way of theater productions at our school. The closest we came to drama was declamation contests, and for music, choir or mandolin club. No plays or musicals were staged at WRA during this era. Yet, Arthur Hopkins, class of 1900, became one of the most celebrated and successful producers in the history of the Broadway stage.

Hopkins started his career as a newspaper reporter in Minneapolis and Cleveland, then became a booking agent for circus acts at Luna Park in Cleveland and other amusement parks in the New York area. In 1913 he produced "Poor Little Rich Girl", a Broadway hit, and the first of his more than 80 productions over the next 35 years. He had the distinction of being the first to produce a play by Eugene O'Neill on Broadway, bringing "The Hairy Ape" from Provincetown, and later O'Neill's "Anna Christie". He was the first to showcase the almost unknown Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen's plays in New York, producing "A Doll's House", "The Wild Duck", and the controversial "Hedda Gabler". Hopkins also worked as a director with some of the best known stage actors of the time including John and Lionel Barrymore, Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and others. In the 1930's he produced and directed plays by such celebrated dramatists as Maxwell Anderson and Robert Sherwood, and in 1946 he produced "The Magnificent Yankee", a hit play based on the life of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Arthur Hopkins was an unassuming man who played a large role in the history of the American stage. When he died in 1950 the New York Times stated "the American theatre has lost one of its greatest figures." Hopkins was the author of an autobiography and a book of essays on the theater based on a series of lectures he had given at Fordham University in 1947. His brother, William R. Hopkins, Cleveland City Manager, was probably better known in Ohio. He is the subject of one of my earlier entries.

Top German Diplomat was Student at WRA

In mid-May I had the privilege of hosting the Rotary Group Study Exchange from Germany who are here in northeast Ohio for a period of four weeks. These five young professionals and their group leader hail from Hannover and Saxony-Anhalt and represent six different cities from that part of Germany. At the same time, a Rotary study group from Ohio is visiting their home area. Faculty member Ralf Borrmann helped take them around campus and answered their many inquiries about life at WRA. One question that was posed had to do with how long WRA has had German students coming to our campus for a year or more of study.

We believe that the program goes back to the 1960's or earlier, and it was interesting to recall that Christoph Heusgen, who has made a name for himself as a top German diplomat at the European Union in Brussels, is now Chancellor Angela Merkl's top foreign policy advisor. Two
years ago when Dr. Borrmann took a student group to Germany, he was able to contact Heusgen who arranged for a special tour in Berlin. While at WRA in 1971-72, Heusgen participated in track and soccer and played violin in the school orchestra. He continued his studies at St. Gall in Switzerland and returned to the U.S. to earn a master's in economics at Georgia Southern University on a Rotary International scholarship. His importance to the European political scene cannot be overstated. Perhaps WRA can persuade him to return to give an assembly on international relations.