On a beautiful Fiesta weekend, The Granada Theatre was filled with a massive, almost otherworldly vision of North Carolina in the waning days of the Civil War. The Music Academy’s production of Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain proved to be just that — a mountain — but not a cold one. This big, multifaceted opera will almost certainly earn a place in the permanent repertoire, and the MAW’s impressive West Coast Premiere will go down in history as a part of that development. Anneliese Klenetsky (Ada) and Evan Bravos (Inman) kept us riveted as the protagonists of this epic story, which included extremes of every imaginable variety, from scenes of great tenderness to savage acts of violence.
Despite the significant alterations necessary to bring Charles Frazier’s sprawling text to the operatic stage, the message of his novel nevertheless came through — it’s dangerous to be saved in an unsaved world. As the Confederate Army disintegrates, bands of militia roam the countryside hunting deserters with the same brutality once reserved for runaway slaves. You may outwit them, and you may outrun them, but thanks to the catastrophic dilemma faced by every Rebel soldier, loyal or not, you will never outlast them. Higdon and the MAW team brought a panoply of resources to bear on this tragic theme of American entrapment, including a spectacular set by François-Pierre Couture, brilliant lighting, costumes, and projections, and a large chorus and cast superbly directed by James Darrah and Kate Bergstrom.
From the pit, an awesome sound arose as conductor Daniela Candillari led the academy’s fellows through the complex yet always direct and emotionally grounded score. Sangmoon Lee made a terrific villain as Teague, and Talin Nalbandian and Andrew Zimmerman excelled as Ruby and Veasey, respectively. Highlights included a tender scene between Bravos as Inman and Meagan Martin as the bereft young widow Sara. The cumulative impact, especially of the wild second act, left the audience both stunned and thrilled as they stood to offer a long ovation.