Ann and Abe
This new opera was performed the first week in November, 2015, at Danville Area Community College. There were 4 workshop performances given for area high schools and senior citizens groups (with pre-recorded synthesized orchestra), plus three performances with live orchestra on November 6, 7, and 8. The subject of the opera concerns the legendary (and historically controversial) romance between Ann Rutledge and the young Abraham Lincoln. The characters include: Abraham Lincoln, Ann Rutledge, Mary Todd Lincoln, Ward Lamon, a French Street Peddler, law partners of Lincoln, James Rutledge, John McNamar (fiancé of Ann Rutledge), townspeople of Danville, and townspeople of New Salem.
The opera is one continuous act, with 10 scenes. Its duration is approximately 70 minutes long, without intermission. Below is the link to a video of the Saturday performance:
A summary of the scenes:
Sometime in the early 1850's
scene i: Ward Lamon, a law partner of Lincoln's, wrestles outside of the courthouse in Danville.
scene ii: Inside the Danville courthouse a mock collection is taken up for some new pants for Lamon.
scene iii: At a boarding house somewhere in Central Illinois, Lincoln reads Euclid's Geometry while his lawyer colleagues sleep and snore.
scene iv: During idle time Lincoln watches a French street peddler. This could either have happened in Urbana or Danville, according to which source one follows.
scene v: In reverie, Lincoln recalls the death of Ann and his resulting “melancholy”; he attempts to divert his attention by recalling a funny story he used to tell. The story is enacted in pantomime.
Sometime in the early 1830's
scene vi: Lincoln recalls the last conversation he had with Ann before she falls ill, in which she makes clear that she will not be courted by him until she knows for certain that McNamar has cancelled their engagement.
scene vii: Ann and Abe enjoy a picnic on the Sangamon River, near New Salem; Lincoln declares his love for Ann; she reciprocates gradually.
scene viii: A quilting bee takes place indoors at a parlor in New Salem; Lincoln first notices Ann; James Rutledge enters the scene and appears agitated; John McNamar also makes an appearance as an impressive newcomer from back East. (The entire scene is pantomime, without speaking or singing, except for when a hymn is sung.)
Sometime during the Civil War
scene ix: Lincoln reads poetry by Burns (“The Cotter's Saturday Night,” followed by “Holy Willie's Prayer”), Byron (“Lara”), and Pope (“Essay on Man”).
scene x: Lincoln and Mary Todd have a squabble; the squabble is quelled by a humorous remembrance of Lincoln's bad dancing; Lincoln states the simple fact that Mary is the only woman he hasn't lost, nor can he.
How, when, and why it was composed...
Work on this project actually started with an orchestra piece I began writing in the Fall of 2013. I wanted to write a piece that would imitate the actions of quilters at a quilting bee. Then I began thinking about frontier life in general, and then frontier life specifically in central Illinois. My thoughts then turned to Lincoln, and the film Young Mr. Lincoln (directed by John Ford). In the movie there is a sad scene where Lincoln is at the grave of Ann Rutledge. After doing a little research, I decided that I'd write an opera about their famed romance. No one else had.
At the beginning of the Fall 2014 semester, I told my colleagues in Liberal Arts about my project, and invited them to collaborate with me. Rich Pate offered to make it a research project for his history classes. And Marla Jarmer offered to involve her creative writing class in making a contribution to the libretto. I also asked Glenda Boling and Phillip Langley (who co-teach the acting classes here at DACC) if they'd be interested in the producing the opera, with the aid of the DACC Players. They enthusiastically took me up on the offer. Ronnie Johnson and his art classes assisted with set construction. And Don and Sue Richter of the Vermilion County Historical Society were also involved in the project, suggesting dependable historical resources, as well as lending us a hand with costuming.
There are a number of reasons to write an opera about Rutledge and Lincoln. It might be of interest to people locally. In fact, some of the scenes of the opera are set in Danville, because Lincoln was a part of Danville's history, albeit after he had courted Ann. The romance itself is somewhat controversial, with some historians claiming that it really didn't happen. With that being the case, I thought it might be a good opportunity for DACC history students to delve into something that isn't gospel truth (as if much history is). Finally, there really aren't that many Lincoln operas out there. A recent opera about the assassination comes to mind (Our American Cousin, by Eric Sawyer). But none about Rutledge and Lincoln have come to my attention.