In Meriwether, composer Jim Lahti and librettist John McEveety Woodruff have teamed together, and pulling from the ancient expression of theatrical tragedy, principally that form most cultivated by Sophocles, in gripping terms here tell the disaster of Meriwether Lewis's return from the wilderness from the moment the Corps of Discovery emerged from the frontier to Lewis's final violence to himself.
Suicide is a subject that is never easy. It is, however, a subject that demands intense questioning. The United States of America is a young nation and has through its 200-odd years adopted certain icons. One of those is the extraordinary accomplishment of Lewis and Clark. This great legacy will always be part of our rich heritage.
There is another legacy within this history that, though dark and fearful, bears telling, a telling that will broaden our understanding in a different dimension. The telling of when events go wrong and why. When those men surfaced in 1806 from two and a half years in the wilderness, they were irrevocably changed men, as was the country significantly mutated in a moment. Suddenly, we had more than doubled in size, and the great and terrible expansion west had begun. Only one man out of the three dozen on that expedition perished, and he from a burst appendix. In 1809 the second man to die was Meriwether Lewis. He died by his own hand.
His comparatively swift and brutal end is not dwelt on in the textbooks. And although the general narrative in the public domain cannot be condemned for "sweeping it under the rug", the fact of his suicide comes even today as a shock to many. But when the circumstances of Lewis's painful last three years are examined closely, one begins to sense a deep and inescapable tragedy unfolding. He was capable of great discoveries in the frontier's dark unknown, but incapable of facing the unknown within himself. And despite the love, care, and concern of the friends and loved ones around him, he was numb to their attentions. The greatest forum for the telling of such a story is the operatic stage.
It is safe to say that, had Sacagawea not been a member of the expedition, they would not have been able to make the journey successfully. In Meriwether, Sacagawea functions as a Greek chorus of one, occasionally observing and commenting. In the Act I Prologue music, you hear "our" Sacagawea's first contribution to the opera.
RECORDING - 31 JANUARY 2008
Sacagawea: Karen Mason
Meriwether: Lewis Adam Dietz
John Pernier (speaking role): Michael Hirsch
Charles B.J.F. Saint-Mémin: Brad Staubes
Fanny Westwood: Sara Clark
Conductor: Jim Lahti
Jeanne Wilson, flute; Gary Hamme, oboe; Jeff Adler, clarinet; Mark Davies, bassoon; RJ Kelley, French horn; Rachel Simon, trumpet; Chris Olness, trombone; Lawrence Spivack, percussion; Milton Granger, piano; Sylvia D'Avanzo & Pauline Kim, violins; Joseph Guttesman, viola; Deborah Sepe, cello; Michael Kuennen, contrabass
Sound Engineer. Joe Musco
New Jersey City University, 31 January 2008