© 2022 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Classical 101

A New Opera: Cold Mountain

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Jennifer Higdon has captured the rawness of the famous novel-turned-film, 'Cold Mountain.'

  There have been a lot of new operas premiered over the last several years. This follows a drought that was broken by John Adams and Nixon in China.  It's a shock to realize that was thirty years ago; Adams has gone on to more success on the lyric stage. As has John Corigliano, Phillip Glass, Ricky Ian Gordon,  John Harbison and Charles Wourinen. Jake Heggie is the American-composer-darling of the-world, with Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick.

We've gone from the "CNN-Operas" featuring Nixon, Atomic Energy and Leon Klinghoffer to operas based on favorite books. There are very few operas, by the way, not based on another source. Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hoffmansthal were the exceptions with Der Rosenkavalier, Die frau ohne Schatten and Arabella.

Carmen was first a novella by Proser Merimee. Mozart and da Ponte turned to the scandalous Beaumarchais for Le nozze di Figaro​. La traviata was a racy book and Rigoletto, a play by a political rabble rouser. 

Charles Franzen's novel Cold Mountain is one of the great reads of the past fifty years. A civil war solider deserts to return to his wife in the mountains of Tennessee. The opera Cold Mountain has a libretto by Gene Scheer and music by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon.

Higdon was on the OSU campus several years ago for a week long festival of her music. I spent a lot of time with her. Of Cold Mountain she says, "I grew up sixty miles from there as the crow flies."


After a few years of development and workshops, Cold Mountain has its world premiere last week at the Santa Fe Opera. New American  operas  are generally politely received, revived a few times and put away. I have a feeling Cold Mountain's future will be different.

On line reports were incredible., The final curtain call hadn't been taken when the web was glowing. People loved Cold Mountain. There's not a ticket to be had for any of the performances in Santa Fe. The opera will travel to Philadelphia and St. Louis and you know it will turn up soon in New York, Houston, San Francisco and London. 

"The vocal lines also avoidedthekind of leaden parlando that weighs own so many modern operas,  and moved fast enough to allow witty exchanges.  Also crucial: Everything was so singable that Nathan Gunn , Isabel Leonard and Jay HunterMorris did some of their best work. Often vocal lines were supported by exactly the right pungent harmonies  and perhaps a lone, lonely woodwind solo conveying complete despair in one moment, glimmers of hope in another." -Daniel Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer

"The seeds of every character's triumphs and failures were sewn into the DNA of Gene Sheers' beautifully molded  libretto. Higdon emerges as a top flight dramatist. The vocal lines are lyrical, singable and always dedicated to revealing the characters, telling you where these people come from and how they think and feel."  -Eric Brannon, WRTI

There were not universal raves in the press. There was a consensus among ticket buyers on line that Cold Mountain will be an American opera for the ages. Meaning it will continue to be performed. Most importantly, as the stated above, Higdon has written an opera that is singable, that contains music, used to illuminate and bring home the characters. I'm stoked.