“Holy Ghosts” an opera in two acts


Music by Larry Bell

Libretto by Andrea Olmstead
based on the play by Romulus Linney


Live performance Sept. 15, 2009
Berklee Performance Center
Boston, MA


Complete video with libretto Program, Synopsis, Bios of cast and band online:









Southerner Coleman Shedman demands a divorce from his wife, Nancy, who he thinks has left him for a preacher–Oby. Coleman, Nancy, and Oby each recollect the couple’s last night together quite differently. It turns out Coleman is mistaken about Oby: Nancy has left him for Oby’s elderly father, Obediah Buckhorn. Reverend Buckhorn leads a group of desperate misfits whose worship includes singing four traditional hymns (in the first act) and a literal belief in an obscure verse from the Book of Mark. The act concludes with Coleman’s horrified realization he is in the midst of a cult of Pentecostal snake handlers.

In Act II Coleman witnesses a series of religious-conversion testimonials. These worshippers include a woman dying of cancer; a suicidal, roughneck, gay couple; a teenaged couple unprepared for sudden parenthood; a middle-aged woman defying her family to try to find meaning in her life; and a woman accused of killing her sister with poisonous snakes. As the testimonials become more intense and six other hymn tunes appear, the service climaxes with the ecstatic handling of snakes. The only skeptic, Coleman is nevertheless moved to handle a serpent, and, in a blinding flash, finds salvation. Nancy, on the other hand, becomes disillusioned with Buckhorn and leaves the church. All the remaining parishioners embrace their renewed victory over death and celebrate the unchanging love of God.