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Kirke Mechem

Publisher: G. Schirmer

John Brown (2007)
Text Writer
Libretto by the composer.
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Grand Opera
Year Composed
2 Hours 7 Minutes
Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, 3 Tenors, Baritone, 3 Bass-baritones, 2 Basses
Programme Note
Kirke Mechem John Brown (2007)

The opera details the events leading up to and surrounding the abortive attempt by John Brown, a charismatic abolitionist, to destroy American slavery by force of arms. However harsh and single-minded his struggle for black freedom, Brown’s story concerns issues key to the historical development of America and perhaps still central to its fate. Following an unsuccessful attack in 1859 on the US arsenal in Virginia, Brown, who had confided to Frederick Douglas that he, like Moses, was chosen by God to lead the slaves to freedom, is sentenced to execution by hanging. As the opera closes, Douglas proclaims, ‘You cannot bury him! As long as men love freedom, John Brown will never die.’

View Full Score - Act II
View Full Score - Act III

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  • 01 MAR 2013
    Dallas, TX
    Southern Methodist University
    Coretta Smith; Paul Phillips, conductor
  • 03 MAY 2008
    John Brown World Premiere
    Kansas City, MO
    Lyric Opera of Kansas City

Saturday's world premiere of John Brown by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City was the sort of magical success that composers and musicians dream of. With unabashedly lush solo and choral writing, a shimmering orchestral backdrop and a raw-nerved story of continued relevance, this opera is a natural almost from start to finish.... Mechem's musical language is approachable but complex…spiced by unexpected harmonic turns and orchestral color.... It is an opera that I suspect will take on a life of its own…could easily become an iconic American classic.
Paul Horsley, Kansas City Star,04/05/2008
Strikingly contemporary...with its strong score and story, the opera is likely to become a standard in the operatic repertoire....a powerful opera about the terrible stakes in the nation's struggle over slavery. Profound and haunting, it may be as close to an American epic as anything yet written.
National Catholic Reporter, ,01/01/0001
Mechem has resurrected Brown in all his ambiguity. At the very center of his opera is the confrontation between Brown and Frederick Douglass....James Maddalena makes of Brown a towering and commanding figure, and although Mechem portrays him positively in sometimes mesmerizing music, he never evades the complex issues encountered in Brown's position. Donnie Ray Albert makes Douglass, a man to whom ambiguity was alien, a veritable Rock of Gibraltar....This role must be a major triumph in Albert's long and distinguished career....The score is often marvelous both in sound and emotion....It is tonal and lyric throughout, but never trite....The choruses "I'm free!" and "Stoke the Fire" are as stirring as anything Verdi ever wrote.
Opera Today, ,01/01/0001
This Brown is not a wild-eyed fanatic but a family man of holy rage, pushed to extremes to right one of history's greatest a show-stopping walk-on, local soprano Vanessa Thomas turns the tragic story of a slave woman into a pained marvel....the libretto offers the greatest bits of Douglass's greatest speeches, and the score rises....At moments like this, John Brown clutches music, history and the soul itself....By the end...Mechem's score swells into both requiem and celebration, a majesty fit for its subject: the delayed, bloody birth of a truly free America. Afterward, the crowd leapt to its feet and clapped so long and hard that hands grew sore., ,01/01/0001
(Four stars) Mechem's work is breathtaking, aided by the rich performances of Maddalena and Albert, [who] nearly stopped the production with his rich delivery of this moving work.
A&, ,01/01/0001
[Mechem's] fidelity to the essentials of the abolitionist's gripping story constitutes his opera's greatest strength....a production worthy of its subject…with a cast headed by two powerful singing actors, baritone Donnie Ray Albert as Frederick Douglass and especially James Maddalena, whose John Brown evolves as a stern, compassionate, ultimately sympathetic figure of much complexity....Audiences have given it standing ovations.
Toronto Star, ,01/01/0001
We have just seen the premiere of what may well be the great American opera... What is said, what is sung, what happens in Act II constitutes one of the most powerfully moving scenes in all opera….[Brown’s] hubris, his martyrdom, and his apotheosis bring this character and events from the historical into the pantheon of the great tragic figures in theatre.
Prof. Theodore Johnson, , Kansas University,01/01/0001
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