Hannah Duston’s captivity story at once fascinates, repels and fixates New Englanders.

It has for centuries and, along the way, has left a trail of divided public opinion.

Entering the fray is “The Captivity of Hannah Duston,” a new opera by Grammy Award-winning composer Lansing McLoskey and librettist Glen Nelson, to be presented by a small cast of singers and instrumentalists with the Guerilla Opera group of Boston.

The entire work has a prologue, five scenes and an epilogue. But on Thursday, May 30, at HC Media at Harbor Place in Haverhill, four musicians and four instrumentalists will perform a shortened version.

It will be presented in tandem with a visit to one of two Haverhill museums — the Buttonwoods Museum and the Duston-Dustin Garrison House.

Each museum visit will include a brief presentation on Hannah Duston — the historical figure — thereby immersing audiences in the experience, said Haverhill’s Aliana de la Guardia, Guerilla Opera’s artistic director and professional soprano.

A bit of museum mystery goes with the evening, making of it a journey. People can choose option A or option B, but they will not know until after they make their selection whether their choice sends them to a history briefing at the Buttonwoods or the Duston-Dustin Garrison House. People also have the option of attending the show only.  

Duston’s story remains complex, intriguing and controversial, de la Guardia said.

“It is very alive,” she said.

In the spring of 1697, Duston’s family was living on what was then the frontier, in Haverhill. It was a time of fear and suspicion — in the midst of King William’s War — when hostilities raged between colonists and Native Americans.

Native Americans (most of whom were likely Abenaki people) killed 27 colonists and took captive Duston, her newborn and a neighbor in a Haverhill raid.

The captors killed Duston’s newborn. Later, Duston engineered an escape by killing and scalping some 10 Native American family members who were holding her hostage, according to an account Duston gave Puritan minister Cotton Mather two weeks after her return from captivity.

The five scenes of “The Captivity” come from Duston’s own stories told by writers Mather, Henry David Thoreau, John Greenleaf Whittier, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sarah Josepha Hale (she wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and lobbied for making Thanksgiving a national holiday.)

The librettist, Nelson, of New York said in a phone interview that the Duston story tellings differed. Some even contradicted and challenged earlier ones.

“It occurred to me that in 2019, the same issues we have now — over who gets to tell a story — were happening in the (1800s),” said Nelson, a New York Times-bestselling author.

The May 30 presentation, a concert, will include only the prologue and the first scene of “The Captivity.”

The prologue is set in present-day Haverhill. It unfolds with a passerby noticing a city monument to Hannah Duston, prompting the visitor to wonder: who was this woman, Nelson said.

The shortened opera will be performed along with music from “Rumpelstiltskin” by Marti Epstein at HC Media.

A full version of the opera will be presented at a later date.

The Guerilla company artistic director, the Buttonwoods director and an administrator at the Duston-Dustin Garrison House are excited at the prospect of combining a museum visit with performance.

Buttonwoods has in its collection Hannah Duston artifacts, including the scalping knife she is said to have used on the dead Abenaki — to claim bounty money.

The museum exhibit also includes empty shelf space, representing the gaps in information about Hannah Duston, said Buttonwoods director Janice Williams.

The Garrison is a historic First Period house where Hannah Duston and her family lived for a time after her return to Haverhill. Their house had been burned in the raid.

Diane Dustin Itasaka, who lives in Bradford, is a direct descendent, eighth generation, of Hannah Duston and president of the Garrison House Association. She said she looks forward to the joint museum visit/performance helping the Garrison House further its mission, keeping the Hannah Duston story alive.

“It is important because even though this building is 322 years old, we are still a baby,” she said. “This is only our sixth summer open.”

The house draws 3,000 visitors between June and October.

The author of a 2015 historical narrative of the Hannah Duston book, “Massacre on the Merrimack,” Jay Atkinson, of Methuen, said Duston was celebrated as a hero in her lifetime.

Now, looking back on the events of 1697, he said, it is very difficult to determine whether what she did was heroic, justifiable or morally outrageous.

But passage of time has not prevented people from forming and expressing their opinions.




What: “The Captivity of Hannah Duston,” an immersive museum and performance, ending with a talkback with the composer and librettist 

When: Thursday, May 30; museum visits at 6 p.m., concert at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Performance at HC Media at Harbor Place, 2 Merrimack St., Haverhill; museum visits to Buttonwoods Museum, 240 Water St., and Duston-Dustin Garrison House, 655 Hilldale Ave., both in Haverhill

How much: Combined museum expedition and concert admission, $45; concert only $25 general admission, $20 seniors and $10 students and patrons who are blind or visually impaired

More information: guerillaopera.org/events