The Garden of Martyrs is

  • a powerful new American opera that had its world premiere on September 20 & 22, 2013, at Northampton’s historic Academy of Music, with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, conducted by maestro Kevin Rhodes.
  • the creation of composer Eric Sawyer and librettist Harley Erdman, based on the novel by Michael C. White. It is based on an actual historical event with great resonance today.

The true story

In November, 1805, a young man named Marcus Lyon was brutally murdered on the turnpike in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, near Springfield. Two Irish Catholic laborers, Dominic Daley and James Halligan, were seen near the vicinity of the crime, and apprehended. The case became a huge sensation. The men were given a hasty trial and executed in Northampton in June, 1806, before a crowd of 15,000 cheering spectators. Subsequent research has borne out a miscarriage of justice: the men were likely innocent, victims of prejudice and a rush to judgment. Daley and Halligan are now known as the “Irish Sacco and Vanzetti.” They were officially pardoned by Governor Michael Dukakis in 1984.

The opera

The Garden of Martyrs musically dramatizes the last five days of the men’s lives. The protagonist is Father Jean Cheverus, a French immigrant priest who travels from Boston to Northampton to comfort the men—even though he believes them guilty. Cheverus’ journey of transformation, conveyed through soaring and lyrical music, rich orchestration, and a colorful cast of characters, is the heart of the opera. Combining the dramatic reality of these men’s final days with moments of reverie and magic, The Garden of Martyrs asks us to open our minds and hearts to outsiders among us.