True story of 2 daring women who turn the tide of the American Civil War.
Commissioned by Soprani Compagni
WINNER, 2016 Opera Kansas Zepick Composition Prize
Finalist, 2017-18 American Prize for Opera Composition
One Act, 20 minutes
Two sopranos, piano, incidental violin (fiddle tune)
EDGE OF OUR SEATS
Ayers, with his slender forces on stage, keeps us on the edge of our seats in this drama that features a triumvirate of minor-major seventh chords that circle around each other to darken the mood, which is complemented by ingenious weaving of ‘Am I A Soldier of the Cross?’ and ‘Let My People Go.’
Excerpt, Jessica Crowell and Desireé Hargrave
KPTS-Wichita Feature Story on Beneath Suspicion
Complete work, Malone University Opera Theater
Beneath Suspicion is based on a true but almost unknown story of two daring, American women who fought against slavery, exploiting prevailing gender and racial stereotypes to spy for the Union inside the Confederate “White House” during the Civil War.
Elizabeth Van Lew, a passionate abolitionist known around Richmond as “Crazy Bet,” is the middle-aged daughter of a recently deceased, wealthy Richmond slave owner. Upon her father’s death, she frees her family’s slaves, including a young household servant named Mary. Bet, recognizing Mary’s extreme intelligence, sends her to Philadelphia to a Quaker School to be educated, after which Mary returns to Richmond to work in the Van Lew home as a free woman.
Mary has a photographic memory. She can memorize documents verbatim in one quick reading as well as repeat lengthy conversations word for word. As the war breaks out, Mary is in her early 20s, Bet, her 40s. They are close friends. Though Richmond is the capital of the Confederacy, about half of its inhabitants are Union sympathizers. Bet, a firebrand, uses her contacts to set up a spy ring to report Confederate movements to the Union military. Her information is so reliable, her coded messages go directly General Ulysses S. Grant.
This works portrays a key scene in the lives of these two women: the crisis moment when Mary must decide if she will risk her life to undertake the daring plan she believes God has revealed to her, or if she will shrink back to maintain her personal safety and freedom.
Both women were inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in the 1990s.