Howard Hanson composed only one opera, Merry Mount, first heard in an out-of-town tryout in Ann Arbor in 1933 and produced at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on February 10, 1934. Critical and audience response to Merry Mount, which included a sizeable radio broadcast audience that also tuned into the premiere, was overwhelmingly positive, but posterity has not been kind to this work. Hanson extracted a popular orchestral suite from Merry Mount, and later in life presented a couple of cut-down concert performances of the opera. Here, conductor Gerard Schwarz, the Seattle Symphony, and an expert cast, including soprano Lauren Flanigan and baritone Richard Zeller, present the first complete modern recording of Merry Mount for Naxos, as recorded at a live concert performance held in Seattle in honor of Hanson's centenary in 1996.
Merry Mount is an American opera that deserves hearing; the music is exceedingly well-crafted, serious, and the dramatic structure and story are involving. Schwarz, who has recorded the suite from Merry Mount as part of his Hanson edition for Delos, is deeply dedicated to this production, and the choral singing is outstanding, particularly that by the Northwest Boychoir. Stylistically Hanson's music is very direct and wedded to the ebb and flow of the tale told, which is anything but "merry," being a dark narrative of ascetic Puritans, lusty Cavaliers, hostile Indians, star-crossed love, and demonic possession taken from Twice Told Tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The plot summary included in the booklet is rather dense and reproduced in tiny print; however, the opera is in clearly understandable English, so English speakers might just want to toss the book aside and listen. The sound is better than adequate in reproducing the performance and making the singing clear, although one could wish for a little more response in the low end.