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.