Ford's Theatre: An American Chamber Opera in One Act

Matthew Kennedy


The Origin of the Work

The narrative of Former First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln's life after the assassination of her husband was first mentioned tome in detail by Dr. Joel Shrock in a Post-Civil War American History course during my undergraduate work at Anderson University in 2008. Dr. Shrock expressed Mary's sense of loneliness and failing mental health after the loss of her husband and two of her four children. The story resonated deeply with me. To hear of another human experiencing such great agony was very impactful, and furthermore, this impact was deepened when considering her husband's status and power at the time of his death. I wanted to place this historical moment in a musical context. I began searching for the most appropriate medium to convey the tale; a form that would permit a very drama tic treatment of the narrative. The conclusion of writing an opera depicting Mary's bitter end came about soon after.

Opera has been transformed in the 20th and 21st centuries. Shakespearian tales or Greek mythological heroes, often found as the source for operatic plots, are now being joined by a type of modern day counterpart: powerful political and social leaders. In an interview, John Adams (b. 1947) stated that great modern political leaders such as Nixon, Mao, Kennedy, and Stalin are the "mythological characters of our time," and are the ones who deserve this treatment today. These social leaders are the individuals that have been propelled to myth status by their respective countries and cultures and therefore correlate quite clearly to the Greek stories of old. One can see evidence of this idea in the modern American viewpoint of President Lincoln, and subsequently his family. For serving the country during a time of tumult, Lincoln is highly regarded, even to mythical status. I found this to be a curious place for such deep misfortune and despair. What the Lincoln's faced while in office is an American tragedy and I felt it deserved to be shared. This dichotomy between power and anguish in the Lincoln family, through the trials and tribulations of the Civil War and through their personal lives, was a wealthy resource with which to begin the writing process. My research on Mary and her time following Abe's death began soon after.