Dreaming Salem

A Dramatic Oratorio

based on the 1692 Salem Witch Trials
for Adult Chorus and Soloists 
Music and Libretto by Judith C. Lane

All music and lyrics copyright © Judith C. Lane.  All rights reserved. 

Time: 1692

Setting:  The town of Salem, Massachusetts

Historical Background:  In 1692 the village of Salem, Massachusetts suddenly found itself in the grip of a mass hysteria which sparked off the largest witch hunt this country would ever see.  Hundreds were accused and sent to prison to await trial.  Nineteen women and men were hanged and one man was pressed to death before the hysteria wound to its close.

"Dreaming Salem" is an hour-long dramatic oratorio which tells the tale of the Salem Witch Trials.  The oratorio uses historical documents from the 1600s as the basis for much of the libretto.  It was written in homage to Susanna Martin, ancestor of the composer, who was hanged as a witch.




Performed by the Riverdale Choral Society.  Conductor: John Lettieri

PROLOGUE:
SALEM AWAKES

            CHORUS

DREAMING SALEM, VILLAGE OF FEAR                                                                                
LAND WHERE EVIL WAKENS WITH DAWN.
TERROR GRIPS YOU, SHADOWS CAN SPEAK!
COMES THE MADMAN, SPURRING IT ON!

FEAR CREEPS UNDER EVERY DOOR!
AND THE SNAKE OF SUSPICION LEAVES A POISONED TRAIL!

GOD HAS ABANDONED YOU...

CRIES OF THE HUNTED HAUNT YOUR DREAMS
LAMENTATIONS, LAMENTATIONS!

WILL NO ONE LISTEN?  WILL NONE SPEAK?
THEN SLEEP THE SLEEP OF THE DAMNED!

SILENCE AS AN ANSWER
BRINGS SILENCE AS REWARD.

AND WHEN YOU GO TO GALLOW’S HILL
ALL MOUTHS WILL SHUT,
ALL EYES WILL CLOSE,
AND NONE WILL HEAR YOUR PLEA OF INNOCENCE...

OH SALEM, OH CHILD...
LOST IN A NIGHTMARE!
I SING YOUR STORY NOW,
SO ALL MAY HEAR.

SALEM, SALEM, SALEM...
AWAKE!

 

Synopsis

Prologue: “Salem Awakes" (1692)
Salem is asleep - both literally and metaphorically - but even in sleep it is haunted by the witch hysteria that burned its name into a black chapter of our history books.  It is doomed to replay the incidents that occurred in 1692, when evil ran unchecked throughout the village and the pleas of the innocent and the voices of logic and dissent were silenced or ignored.  Salem is summoned to awake and relive its bitter story so that all may learn from it.

Movement 1: “Saviour of all Men”
The Puritans live an austere, church-centered life.  There is no book but the Good Book; children are expected to be quiet and obedient, and every moment is overshadowed by the constant fear of living in a land populated by frightening, devil-like natives, and at the mercy of calamities and deadly illnesses. 

Movement 2: “The Prayer of Rev. Parris”
Reverend Samuel Parris, unhappily disliked by half his parishioners, appeals to God for a way to unite his congregation. 

Movement 3: “The Sermon of Rev. Parris”  (March 27, 1692)
Reverend Parris's sermon inspired the congregation to suspect that the devil could also inhabit the body of a God-fearing Christian, opening wide the door for fear to enter. 

Movement 4: “Telling Fortunes”
The winter nights are long and cold, with very little diversion for children.  Tituba, a slave, is teased into telling fortunes for some young girls, who are terrified by the result.

Movement 5: “The Children Cry Out”
The fears of the congregation are manifested when the group of young girls suddenly feels they are being attacked by unseen forces.  Guided by the adults, the girls name their torturers B at first only the destitute, the infirm and the enslaved.  But as their accusations meet with no contest, they gain confidence and begin to accuse others.

Movement 6: “The Words of Cotton Mather”
Cotton Mather's discourse adds fuel to the fire by confirming that Satan is causing the witchcraft, for he believes the Devil is angry that the Puritans have brought God to the new land. 

Movement 7: “One For the Devil”
The townspeople begin to see their neighbors in a new light, suspecting each other of evil doings based on unusual incidents or coincidence.

Movement 8: “The Trial of Susanna Martin” (June 30, 1692)
The accused are represented by Susanna Martin, Giles Corey and Mary Easty.
  Susanna Martin's trial is a composite of the trials of many, full of the absurdities that were accepted as fact. 

Movement 9: “Susanna’s Plea”
Susanna Martin, ancestor of the composer, is given the opportunity to plead her case, which was denied her at her trial.

Movement 10: “The Pressing of Giles Corey” (September 16, 1692)
Giles Corey refused to enter a plea, which prohibited his case from going to trial.
  In an attempt to force him to speak, a slab of wood was placed on his chest and piled with heavy boulders, until he died of asphyxiation. His last words were "More weight."  

Movement 11: “A Letter from Mary Easty” (September 20, 1692)
Mary Easty, condemned to hang at dawn, spent her last night composing a letter to the judges, begging them not for her own life, but to spare the lives of others who she is certain are as innocent as she is herself.

Movement 12: “Gallow’s Hill”
On Gallows Hill, the wind is the breath of angels who are angry at the injustice of the trials.  It shrieks and roars, tearing at cloaks and breaking branches from the nearby trees.  But the townspeople, locked into the oblivion created and nurtured by their fear, proceed to hang the innocent victims of their hysteria.  The Devil has succeeded in Salem.

Movement 13: “Song of the Fathers”
A father sings to his infant daughter after her mother has been hanged.

Epilogue: “The Winthrop Papers" (1630)
Stepping back in time, the Epilogue is adapted from a sermon that was given aboard the Arabella in 1630, as it lay at anchor in what would eventually be called Boston Harbor.  John Winthrop reminded his band of travel-weary Puritans gathered on deck that the entire world would be watching to see how their great experiment played out.  "We shall be as a city upon a hill" is also a reminder to us in the present day that good intentions can become warped beyond recognition.  When those who represent us do so with lies and arrogance, it offers our enemies the opportunity to curse us; when our fears cause us to choose a path of evil, we will eventually be led to our own demise.  "Dreaming Salem" ends with the simple reminder to love one another.  It is a reminder that the current world needs to hear.


The Chorus:
SATB Chorus (25-60 singers)
Small solo parts are available for non-professional singers

The Soloists:
Susanna Martin – Mezzo Soprano
Tituba – Alto
Magistrate John Hathorne – Tenor
Giles Corey – Baritone
Reverend Parris – Baritone
Sherrif George Corwin – Bass
The Girls – Sopranos
Mary Easty – Alto
The Father – Tenor
Cotton Mather - Baritone

Performance Notes:

Running Time:  1 hour
Dreaming Salem can be performed in either a concert or staged version.

Instrumental Ensemble:
Flute, Oboe, 2 Violins, 2 Violas, Cello, Bass
(Piano for rehearsals)

The oratorio may also be performed with just piano.

World Premiere Performance
of the Dreaming Salem Prologue: "Salem Awakes"
by the Riverdale Choral Society

Saturday May 7, 2011
Christ
 Church, Riverdale, NY
 

Salem's witches inspire solemn song
read the article from the Riverdale Press