Slaying the Dragon is inspired by real events that took place in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the early 1990’s, when Larry Trapp, Grand Dragon of the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan, conducted a hate campaign against minority groups in this predominantly white Midwestern city. But when Cantor Michael and Julie Weisser reached out to Larry, despite his anti-Semitic threats, Larry turned his back on bigotry, and campaigned for tolerance until he died in the Weissers’ home from advanced diabetes. Larry’s story has inspired several imagined and documentary works, most notably Kathryn Watterson’s 1995 journalistic account, Not By the Sword.
Drawing upon these historical events as well as their various retellings, Slaying the Dragon presents the fictional story of Jerry Krieg, a white supremacist whose life is suddenly transformed thanks to the kindness extended to him by Rabbi Nathan Goodman and his wife, Vera. Won over by their compassion, Jerry renounces his association with the Klan and other hate groups, and begins to speak out publicly for tolerance. However, Jerry’s advanced diabetes cuts short his plans for a new life. Unable to care for himself, Jerry moves in with the Goodmans and converts to Judaism before dying.
During the course of the opera, we learn that Jerry was abused as a child. We also learn that Nathan spent part of his childhood in an orphanage and was later imprisoned for robbery before deciding to become a rabbi. In reaching out to Jerry, Nathan succeeds in healing many of the wounds inflicted during his own childhood. Before Jerry dies, he reaches out to his own abuser, his father, and reconciles with him.
In the end, this story is about two men, each scarred by abuse and the absence of love, who both find redemption from the prisons of their past. The story also presents a powerful portrait of repentance and forgiveness, and the possibility of authentic change.