Act Three of Howard Hanson's opera Merry Mount opens with the Puritan minister Wrestling Bradford sleeping in the forest.
He wakes up and realizes what he has done (did he REALLY sleep with an evil enchantress? Sell his soul to the Devil for a night of passion? He seems to think so, even though it was all a crazy dream.) They hurry back to the Puritan village where bad things have happened. Bradford blames the destruction on Marigold’s “witchcraft.” The Puritans want to kill her, but she denies being a witch and adds she will go to meet Gower Lackland in the afterlife. This is too much for the still-jealous Bradford, who promises to fight Gower at the gates of Hell. In front of all, he renounces God, takes off his hat, and reveals the Devil’s mark on his forehead. The Puritans flee in terror. Marigold faints. Bradford picks her up and rushes into the burning church as the curtain falls.
Unpacking from a trip to Carnegie Hall, I pulled out my Merry Mount score and wondered if I’d ever sing it again. I think not, judging by the reviews. The RPO played superbly (hear the performance here), the chorus sang with passion and precision, and the soloists were solid. Some passages are ravishing. But the reviews are coming in, and they’re mixed. James Oestreich points to the obvious.
Other reviews praised the orchestra but took issue with the dated qualities of the music. Kurt Vonnegut invented the perfect description of for such haters:
“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing . . . is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”
The truth is the RPO and Eastman-Rochester Chorus and Bach Children’s Chorus and soloists probably offered the best performance of Merry Mount ever.
Whatever its flaws as a work of art, Howard Hanson’s opera offered an unforgettable musical journey.
I feel incredibly lucky to have been part of it!