The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Opera)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

An opera by Bob Milne

Bob studied the history of this legend for two years before beginning to compose the opera. Bob and wife, Linda, made multiple trips to Sleepy Hollow (New York) to learn from the historians what they knew about this story. What they learned was surprising. The story was based around a true incident that happened the night of Baltus Van Tassle's harvest feast festival at his home in the hollow in 1790. Samuel Youngs, aka Ichabod Crane in the famous book, left the party and rode home through a section of the woods reserved for the ancestral spirits. This was not recommended because 1) this area was sacred, and 2) a monster was feared to be on the loose in these woods. The monster, of course, was a Headless Horseman. 

To the townspeople of the time, the Horseman was no joke. They feared it. Dietrich Brouwer, a trusted area sage and elder, relayed a horrifying experience when he encountered the monster many years earlier as a young man. 

Bob Milne wrote his opera based on the beliefs of the townspeople of the era,. He reasoned ,"if they feared the monster, who am I to say they were foolish?"

Bob wrote his opera based on their beliefs. 

There's a Prologue to the opera which introduces the characters and gives some background on the story. Click the button to see the live score of the Prologue. 

The overture consists of a haunting horn solo coming from deep in the woods. A hidden chorus sings words of warning, including the phrase, "In the night rides a man from the River Styx, and he rides on a powerful steed..."

This overture and voices comes back during the finale, after the Horseman has purged the scourge that plagued their community for so long. 

In Washington Irving's 1820 original publication of short stories, titled The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon,  there were only enough characters to tell the story of Ichabod Crane disappearing and never seen again. Bob had to create more characters, such as a town blacksmith and a few others, to have enough people on stage to fill out an opera.  

Main Characters in the Opera

Dietrich Brouwer was mentioned briefly in the original book. He was a town elder who, as a young man, was attacked by the headless monster in the woods. His description of it was chilling.

Abraham (Brom) von Brunt was Katrina's boyfriend. He and his Rough Riders protected their town and area against thieves and pirates. Brom was strong and fearsome in a confrontation with thieves. Therefore they nicknamed him "Brom Bones."  

Katrina Van Tassle became the object of Ichabod Crane's attention when he learned her father, Baltus, was the wealthiest person in the area. At twice her age, Ichabod became highly disliked by the townspeople shortly after arrival. 

This drawing from an 1864 book publication shows Ichabod masking his face when caught standing with the young Katrina. This portrayal of innocence and the villain is the basis of the entire story.  

Bob added Vandersteen, the fun loving blacksmith who sometimes gets into the aging kegs a little too much. Vandersteen is always a peace maker, always trying to get differences settling quickly. 

Baltus Van Tassle is Katrina's father. A quiet, highly respected elder of the community, Baltus sits back and does not interfere with his daughter's decision making between Brom Bones and the obvious gold digger. 

Bob invented a spirit from the netherworld to the story. The Spirit, lute player, appears several times during the opera, each time to warn Ichabod of the impending danger he's walking into. The spirit often speaks in parables. 

Ichabod Crane was also the vocal instructor and choir director for the area. The opera opens with Ichabod conducting the final Sunday morning hymn in the church, then trying to lure Katrina out onto the lawn afterwards so he can "help her with her singing." 

This drawing from an early publication of the book. 

The Pocantico bridge. Upon crossing this bridge you entered the Sacred Woods of the Ancestral Spirits. It was in this area that the people of Sleepy Hollow feared the Horseman had invaded. It was also in this area that Ichabod Crane disappeared.

The home of Baltus Van Tassle is where the Feast of the Harvest Moon took place in 1790. It was from here that Ichabod Crane departed and was never seen again. 

In the opening scene following the church service, Ichabod lures Katrina Van Tassle to give her a singing lesson. His authoritarian style comes through as he commands her to sing "higher, higher...," then "softer, softer..."  He tells her to "Sing to me now," and she actually sings better than he does. You can hear that in the B Major Aria here. 

The Harvest Moon Ball took place at Baltus Van Tassle's house in late 1790. One of the dances is called The Last Carousel.  During this dance Ichabod will not let go of Katrina, causing Brom Bones to go into rage. As several men attempt to restrain him, Ichabod is dancing with Katrina while looking at all the silver and chandeliers in the place and singing, "All this will be mine when I reveal my feelings..."  

You can hear it on the live score here. 

Opera conductor Barnaby Palmer is ready to conduct the premiere saying,

"Whenever anyone decides to put on Bob's opera, I will be there to rehearse, train, and conduct the entire production."

Barnaby Palmer. Conductor and Music Director, San Francisco Lyric Opera writes,

"Robert Milne is a national musical treasure. With the creation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Milne deserves to be considered in the company of an Aaron Copland or Leonard Bernstein; one of the truly great American composers...: 

Upon hearing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, friend Craig Wagner created a website to bring the opera to the world. This was done as a labor of love and enthusiasm. Craig didn't tell Bob what he was doing. Craig's site will give you an excellent insight into the entire opera. 

Stay tuned. We're adding to this page daily.