I had never written a libretto, but when longtime friend and composer Michael Rickelton asked if I was interested in doing just that, I jumped at the chance. The resulting libretto, “No Balm in Gilead,” portrays Edgar Allan Poe as a man haunted by the women of his life and literature.
In Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven,” the narrator laments the loss of his beloved Lenore and begs the question: “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician here?” These are undoubtedly questions that plagued Poe himself throughout his life, most notably following the deaths of his mother, foster mother and wife.
“No Balm in Gilead” imagines Poe’s last night in a Baltimore bar where, drinking absinthe and barely lucid, he imagines that the barmaid is his wife Virginia, who died of tuberculosis only two years earlier. Two other women appear, who introduce themselves as Lenore and Annabel Lee, figures from his poems who accuse him of depriving them of life and love, but creating them only to have them die. Tormented between tragic reality and fierce illusion, Poe staggers out into the night.
The libretto was performed by the Peabody Conservatory Opera Department as a chamber opera, composed by Michael Rickelton. If you would like to see the full work, please e-mail me at danielhartis (at) yahoo.com.