Notes on Lincoln A Poetic Opera
The idea to compose a work based upon Abraham Lincoln has been in my thoughts for quite some time. As the bicentennial of his birth approached, the time seemed just right so I conceived this project and brought my ideas to Tom Cunningham, director of the Manhattan Choral Ensemble, describing to him my lifelong devotion to Lincoln and my desire to make a contribution to this wonderful and important celebratory year. With the hearty and enthusiastic support of Tom and the choir, the endorsement of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and the generous spirit of Harold Holzer we arrive at this recording of the world premiere performance.
I would describe Lincoln A Poetic Opera as a meditation on Lincoln and his time with us, using my own libretto created from Lincoln’s own words, the poetry of Walt Whitman, passages from the Bible, The Children of Pride, other letters and texts from the Civil War, and a very few words of my own. The opera features two main characters: Lincoln, of course, sung by tenor, and Mary Lincoln/Eternity sung by soprano with Eternity referring to the poetic and reflective nature of the words she sings and the idea that she floats through time with Lincoln and forward to us and into the future. I employ solo violin and solo cello as a “third voice” to enhance and illuminate the vocal soloists. In addition, there is a wide variety of instrumental and vocal combinations throughout, and a choral part that alternates between unaccompanied sections and pairings with winds or strings or both. The piano developed into a meditative voice of stark simplicity with one very percussive, propulsive section in the central climax of the work.
For this recording I was blessed with an extraordinary group of performers, all of whom took the music into their hearts and gave a performance of profound beauty.
Lincoln A Poetic Opera combines music, history, and poetry into a work of power and drama and is my tribute to Abraham Lincoln.