Maybe you’ve read Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie. But seeing this tale of life and love during the Civil War put to music composed by Jennifer Higdon and libretto by Gene Scheer, puts it in a whole new perspective! Especially when you have the privilege of seeing it performed by Opera Philadelphia at the Academy of Music, a theatre that was fully operational years before the Civil War even started!
Jennifer Higdon, a Pulitzer Prize winning composer, chose Cold Mountain for her first opera because of her personal connection to the story, growing up just a few miles from the mountain of the same name in North Carolina. She “recognized the people, the landscape, and the familiar pattern of speech.” Because of her intimate knowledge, Jennifer incorporated unusual items as part of the musical landscape; a bluegrass fiddle, a metal drum and branches for the percussionist to “knock around” when a storm approaches. Being her first opera, her biggest challenge was writing for voices and setting the right music for each character. “I felt a lot of responsibility to represent the characters and the story respectfully. I really tried to write music that encapsulated the characters.”
Cold Mountain is the story of W.P. Inman, a confederate soldier who decides to desert and return home to the love of his life, Ada. Inman is performed beautifully by Jarrett Ott. During his long journey home he is being hunted by the “Home Guard” lead by Teague, a sinister and otherwise disturbing man played by Jay Hunter Morris. Inman’s true love Ada was superbly performed by Isabel Leonard in her Opera Philadelphia debut. Ada, a Charleston educated proper lady, is waiting for his return while their farm Black Cove, falls apart around her. Enter Ruby, a woman who has been taken care of herself since a young age and able to take the lead in helping Ada with Black Cove farm. Ruby is expertly performed by Cecelia Hall. But in my opinion, the surprise standout star has to be the stage set itself! What looks like a colossal pile of large timbers at completely erratic angels symbolizing the destruction for the Civil War, had to be navigated by the cast all while they sang, fought, danced and died! Through eye-catching light effects, those timbers take on a life of their own.
Jennifer says that “Cold Mountain was really born in Philly.” A Philadelphia resident, she spent two years writing Cold Mountain and the voices and music were first blocked together at Curtis Institute of Music, where she is the Rock Chair in Composition.
Another long time resident of Philadelphia is the Academy of Music. Opened in 1857 it still maintains much of it’s original decor and provenance from the gas lanterns by the front doors to the original marble floors and the stunning Academy chandelier.
Although, Cold Mountain‘s run at the Academy is over, do yourself a favor in the near future and treat your eyes and ears to a feast of the senses.
To see more of what’s happening at the Academy of Music, go to www.academyofmusic.org/
For more info on Jennifer Higdon: http://jenniferhigdon.com/