Robert Milne's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a fully orchestrated opera, 2.5 hours in length, based on the famous short story authored by Washington Irving in 1819, relating the wild tale of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman. Robert Milne's adaptation of the legend explores deeply some subtleties hidden inside the story that are not generally noticed.
It is not commonly known that The Legend is actually a true story. On first blush the obvious question is, "how is it possible that a headless horseman can be a true story?" It's true because - the people of Sleepy Hollow in 1790 truly believed that a fearsome monster, the horseman, rode in their sacred woods nearby.
Sleepy Hollow is located on the banks of the Hudson River about 30 miles north of New York City, on the northern end of Tarrytown. It was inhabited by Dutch settlers, and the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow (built in 1687, still standing and being used!) was the center of activities for this pioneering and farming community. The Hudson River, at this point, widens to the point of appearing to be an “inland sea.” Accordingly, the Dutch called it the “Tappan Zee.”
The community enlisted the services of a particular person to teach school classes to children, as well as teach and conduct music to all. That person's name was either Jesse Merwin or Samuel Youngs: both of them filled this post at different times in the 1780s, and it was one of them who suffered the famous midnight ride at the hands of the horseman. Washington Irving moved to Sleepy Hollow in the mid 1790s, and it was there that he heard about the wild story of the school/music teacher disappearing in the haunted woods following a dance at Baltus Van Tassle's estate. When Irving wrote his book, about 30 years after this incident occurred, he used the name of "Ichabod Crane" for the unfortunate being of note.
The Dutch people of this era believed that their ancestral spirits inhabited a large tract of woods nearby. These spirits were, for the most part, good spirits, not likely to do harm to anyone. The sacred woods, across the Pocantico bridge, was a place where no one could build: they could go walking or hunting there, but must leave in a timely manner. Local beliefs of the time had it that a monster was now riding the woods at night, the headless horseman.
Ichabod Crane, upon arriving on the scene, scoffed at these notions, doing little to endear himself to the locals. He further distanced himself from them, actually creating a scandal, by going after a beautiful girl named Katrina Van Tassle, who was half his age (18) and one of his singing students. Worse, she was already in love with Abraham Van Brunt, known as "Brom Bones." Bones, same age as Katrina, was a strong, powerful man who rode with a bunch of characters known as the "Rough Riders" who defended the town against pirates and thieves. (Yes, "Rough Riders," 100 years before Teddy Roosevelt reinvented the name.) Additionally, Katrina's father, Baltus Van Tassle, was very wealthy. A quiet, serene gentleman who was respected by all, he did nothing to interfere with or give direction to his daughter's choice of suitors.