Reading Wendell Berry’s works might inspire some to tape “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” to the refrigerator. Or if you’re Shawn Jaeger, you compose an opera. The young composer was reading Berry and enthusiastically growing his own food when he got the idea to put Berry’s short play Sonata at Payne Hollow to music. “I thought, well homesteading isn’t a typical subject that you see represented in opera,” Jaeger told Modern Farmer.

The play centers on a real-life Kentucky couple who lived simply without electricity, gardening and fishing on the bank of the Ohio River. Jaeger contacted Berry about his idea and heard back in a handwritten letter. And when Jaeger went to visit Berry in Henry County, Ky., Berry had already turned his play into a libretto as Jaeger had asked. Get a glimpse of the opera in its near-finished form:


If you’re near Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., catch the world premiere of Payne Hollow at the Bard College Conservatory of Music on March 14 or 16.

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