The town of Salem, Massachusetts
“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 The oratorio uses historical documents from the 1600s as the basis for much of the libretto.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.
Prologue: Salem Awakes
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
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…
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.
“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.
“The Prayer of
Reverend Samuel Parris, unhappily disliked by half his parishioners, appeals to God for a way to unite his congregation.
“The Sermon of
(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.
The winter nights are long and cold, with very little diversion for children. Tituba, a slave, is coerced into telling fortunes for some young girls, who are terrified by the result.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
Susanna Martin, ancestor of the composer, is given the opportunity to plead her case, which was denied her at her trial.
“The Pressing of
(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.”
“A Letter from
(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.
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.
“Song of the Fathers”
A father sings to his infant daughter after her mother has been hanged.
“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.
Dreaming Salem is written for choral concert performance but it may also incorporate staged tableaux.
Flute, Oboe, 2 Violins, 2 Violas, Cello, Bass
(May also be performed with piano.)
Tituba – Alto
Magistrate John Hathorne – Tenor
Giles Corey – Baritone
Reverend Parris – Baritone
Sherrif George Corwin – Bass
The Girls – Sopranos
Mary Easty – Mezzo Soprano
The Father – Tenor
Cotton Mather – Baritone
SATB Chorus (25-60 singers)