On Fri., Feb. 12, 2016, my best friend and I went to the Academy of Music for the area premiere of a new opera, “Cold Mountain,” composed by Jennifer Higdon and written by Gene Scheer. Jennifer Higdon is a graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music, and she composed the opera primarily in Philadelphia. The opportunity to go to the premiere was sponsored by the Opera: Total Art class, run by vocal faculty member Carole Latimer.
The opera tells the tragic tale of W.P. Inman, a jaded deserter from the Confederate Army during the Civil War trying to return back to his home in the town of Cold Mountain while avoiding the Home Guard. The Home Guard is a ragtag group of bounty hunters seeking to catch deserters and return them back to fight in the war; it is run by Teague, a sadistic man who enjoys nothing more than hunting those he feels have disgraced his country.
Inman hopes that he will eventually find his way back to the love of his life, Ada Munroe. Ada is a young woman left almost destitute after her father passes away, bequeathing to her the unsuccessful family farm. She eventually meets Ruby, a young woman with a complicated past. Together they learn to survive off of their land, come to terms with the past, cope with their inner demons, and finally work towards a better future for themselves. However, Ada’s true goal is never lost: she hopes to be reunited with the man she loves.
The opera itself is beautifully done and the cast is top notch. The raw emotion portrayed by the actors is truly a sight to behold. Although my friend and I were admittedly a few minutes late to the first act, the emotions were palpable the moment we entered the theater. Once we finally managed to sit down and the voices of the actors onstage caressed my ears, I was transported back in time. I could feel Inman’s dread within me: he feared that all of his efforts to return to Ada would fail. His longing, determination, and uncertainty as he journeys to be with his love consume him.
This opera is not a typical romance story reminiscent of the time period; it is a glimpse into the mind of a man who is also fleeing from darkness that nearly overtook his heart after serving in the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. He is deeply haunted by the memories of his time in the army, so much so that he abandons it altogether to return to Ada, not only to reunite with his lover, but also to seek redemption for his actions. He believes that he will find reconciliation for his actions during the war by living the rest of his days with the one person that will forgive and understand him. In the end, he realizes that there are no victors in the midst of war; there is only death, which everyone eventually meets.
“Cold Mountain” is a gripping story of love, forgiveness, strife, and redemption. The dark lighting and tense music highlight the story effortlessly. However, what truly roped me in were the performances of the singers themselves. Everything was convincing and beautiful, from their use of the Southern dialect, to their dynamics and the raw emotion evident on their faces. I would highly recommend seeing this opera for yourself in order to truly experience this exquisite story. Unfortunately, the last showing was on Valentine’s Day and the next show is not for another three years…in Minnesota. While this is definitely a long wait, I assure you that it is worth it!