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This February, Opera Philadelphia Presents East Coast Premiere of Cold Mountain by Pulitzer Prize-Winner – and Philadelphia Resident – Jennifer Higdon

“Adventure, romance and pathos in a fresh, vibrant musical idiom.” – Washington Post

This February, under the auspices of its American Repertoire Program, Opera Philadelphia presents the East Coast premiere of Cold Mountain, the first opera by Philadelphia resident and 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon. Based on the National Book Award-winning novel by Charles Frazier, Higdon’s score is composed to a libretto by Gene Scheer, of Moby-Dick and An American Tragedy fame. A major new co-commission and co-production with Santa Fe Opera and Minnesota Opera, Cold Mountain – an American odyssey of love, honor and redemption – premiered in six sold-out August performances at Santa Fe Opera, where it was hailed as “an astonishing triumph, destined to enter the operatic canon of frequently performed works” (Theater Jones). As at Santa Fe, Opera Philadelphia’s staging boasts a “world-class cast” (Washington Post) headed by Grammy Award-winners Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, and Jay Hunter Morris, in a “dynamic stage production” (San Francisco Classical Voice) by Helpmann Award-winner Leonard Foglia. Making his production debut, Opera Philadelphia’s Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris – who recently led the company’s world premiere production of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD – takes the podium for all five performances in Philadelphia’s Academy of Music (Feb 5, 7m, 10, 12 & 14m). Click here for more information and here for a video preview of Cold Mountain.

Having made his name in the operas of his native Italy, Maestro Rovaris – now in the eleventh season of his directorship – is focusing his expertise on America’s homegrown contributions to the genre, and fast becoming an ambassador for new American work. In June, he drew praise for his “ebullient” (Wall Street Journal) leadership of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, the first world premiere yielded by Opera Philadelphia’s American Repertoire Program, and he looks forward to helming its upcoming New York premiere at Harlem’s Apollo Theater this spring. Of his role in the East Coast premiere of Cold Mountain, Rovaris explained:

I am very proud to bring Jennifer Higdon’s first opera to the Academy of Music stage in February. The artistic aesthetic of Jennifer’s work is of the highest quality. I believe her artistry to be limitless, from virtuosic mosaics to intimate folklore. Through her pallet of sounds, shapes, colors and scope, she tells a story unlike anyone else. I have eagerly watched this opera develop through the years, from workshops in Philadelphia to the stage of the Santa Fe Opera, and I cannot wait to work with this dynamic cast and the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus to share the work with East Coast audiences.

Corrado Rovaris (photo: Gabello Studios)

Corrado Rovaris (photo: Gabello Studios)

David B. Devan, General Director & President of Opera Philadelphia, commented:

Cold Mountain is the sixth opera from Opera Philadelphia’s American Repertoire Program, and this one feels especially homegrown to us. From the moment we co-commissioned the work with our friends at Santa Fe Opera, through two workshops conducted at the Curtis Institute of Music in 2012 and 2013, to the many visits that Jennifer made to our offices to talk about writing for the voice, this opera has been cultivated here in Philadelphia.”

Jennifer Higdon, who is the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies at the Curtis Institute of Music, added:

“I am so excited to bring Cold Mountain to the Northeast and to my hometown of almost three decades, Philadelphia. To do so through the passionate and cutting-edge vision of Opera Philadelphia is a real honor and a thrill.”

Set at the close of the American Civil War, Cold Mountain follows W. P. Inman, a wounded soldier who deserts the Confederate Army and crosses the breadth of North Carolina on foot, from his Raleigh hospital room to his Cold Mountain home. Recalling Homer’s Odyssey, the journey is arduous and he endures many hardships before being reunited with Ada Monroe, the woman he loves. Ada also faces challenges, her once privileged life on Cold Mountain having become one of extreme deprivation. Against the backdrop of American history’s pivotal conflict, Inman and Ada’s journeys are transformative and ultimately uplifting, leading them to discover that, as librettist Scheer puts it, “love is the only reliable compass that can lead to redemption.”

The 2003 film adaptation of Frazier’s novel scored no fewer than seven Academy Award nominations, and Higdon and Scheer’s opera made a comparable impact at its August debut. Their new work captures the story’s “adventure, romance and pathos in a fresh, vibrant musical idiom,” marveled the Washington Post. “They distilled the book’s essence, capturing its elegiac tone,” agreed the Wall Street Journal. “Scheer crafted a haiku-like libretto, a miracle of economy,” said the San Francisco Classical Voice; “Higdon’s music serves the text with power and grace.” At times, the Philadelphia Inquirer found, “Cold Mountain bypasses your brain and hits you in the gut.” As Opera News put it:

“An incisive sense of danger and instability suffuses the entire opera. … In Higdon’s neo-Romantic score, violence constantly simmers, erupting during brutal skirmishes in brass-laden turbulence.”

Nathan Gunn and Isabel Leonard in Cold Mountain (photo: Ken Howard/The Santa Fe Opera)

Nathan Gunn and Isabel Leonard in Cold Mountain (photo: Ken Howard/The Santa Fe Opera)

In Philadelphia, as at Santa Fe, Cold Mountain stars Nathan Gunn, “the reigning baritone of the moment, singing Inman with a clarity that elucidates every poetic turn of Scheer’s libretto” (Washington Post). Gunn has longstanding ties with Opera Philadelphia, previously appearing in The Rape of Lucretia (2009), The Pearl Fishers (2004) and Così fan tutte (2003 & 1996), and his dedication to new opera is such that he directs the company’s American Repertoire Council.

Also reprising the roles they created are Richard Tucker Award-winner Isabel Leonard, making her house debut as “a beautiful, believable Ada, the richness of her mezzo evoking Ada’s reserve and desire” (Wall Street Journal), and tenor Jay Hunter Morris, “whose bronzed tones could enchant an audience while they resonated with evil” (Opera Today), as the villainous Teague, brutal leader of the Home Guard.

Kevin Burdette and Nathan Gunn in Cold Mountain (photo: Ken Howard/The Santa Fe Opera)

Kevin Burdette and Nathan Gunn in Cold Mountain (photo: Ken Howard/The Santa Fe Opera)

Mezzo Cecelia Hall, familiar from Opera Philadelphia’s Don Giovanni (2014), makes her role debut as Ruby, a resourceful woman who helps Ada find the courage to survive, and Kevin Burdette (The Barber of Seville, 2014) revisits the roles of Ruby’s wayward father Stobrod and A Blind Man, in which he provided “a welcome comic touch” (Opera News) at Santa Fe.

Rounding out the principal cast are tenor Paul Groves, in his house and role debuts as preacher Veasey; baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore, both as Ada’s father, Monroe, and Pangle, one of Stobrod’s fellow outliers; and mezzo Marietta Simpson and baritone Marcus DeLoach, making company debuts as Lucinda and in the twin roles of Bill Owens and Ethan, respectively.

Returning to direct is Leonard Foglia, whose championship of new works also saw him create Opera Philadelphia’s East Coast premiere of A Coffin in Egypt (2014). In Cold Mountain, as the Wall Street Journal noted,

“Foglia ably bridged the continual shifts of time, building the connection between the two divided lovers and drawing them together as handsome projections of the starry sky became their common reality.”

His vision will once again be realized with the help of scenic designer Robert Brill and projection designer Elaine McCarthy, both making company debuts. Their work drew praise at the August premiere, when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported:

“Robert Brill’s effective scenic design used planks, beams, a raked stage and a steep ramp to represent everything from a farm to a river to a killing field. Elaine J. McCarthy’s phenomenal projection design helped, whether turning the proscenium into a starry sky or a realistic blizzard.”

About Opera Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is committed to embracing innovation and developing opera for the 21st century. Described as “one of the leading instigators of new work in the country” by Opera News, Opera Philadelphia was the only American finalist for the 2015 International Opera Award for Accessibility, a category that recognizes innovative ideas that broaden access to opera. The company is charting a bold new path to September 2017, when Opera Philadelphia will open its 2017-18 season with an immersive, 12-day festival featuring seven operatic happenings in six venues throughout the city. The first festival, “O17,” will feature three world premieres, plus the exclusive East Coast appearance of Barrie Kosky’s groundbreaking production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and a recital by superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Opera Philadelphia will continue to present a spring season each year, including three additional productions in February, March, and April, making it the only U.S. opera company producing an annual opera season that begins with a dynamic festival. For more information, visit

Click here to download high-resolution photos.

Opera Philadelphia: upcoming productions

Except where noted, all events take place at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, PA.

Feb 5, 7m, 10, 12 & 14m
American Repertoire Program
Jennifer Higdon: Cold Mountain (East Coast premiere)
Libretto: Gene Scheer
Conductor: Corrado Rovaris
Director: Leonard Foglia
Co-commission and co-production with the Santa Fe Opera and Minnesota Opera in collaboration with North Carolina Opera
Click here for more information.

March 2, 4 & 6m
Aurora Series: Chamber Opera at the Perelman Theater
Richard Strauss: Capriccio
Conductor: Timothy Myers
Director: Chas Rader-Shieber|
Curtis Opera Theatre Artistic Director: Mikael Eliasen
New production of the Curtis Institute of Music presented in association with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

April 1 & 3m
Harlem, NY
Apollo Theater
Daniel Schnyder: Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD (New York premiere)
Libretto: Bridgette Wimberly
Conductor: Corrado Rovaris
Director: Ron Daniels
A co-production of the Apollo Theater and Opera Philadelphia

April 29, May 1m, 4, 6 & 8m
Gaetano Donizetti: The Elixir of Love
Conductor: Corrado Rovaris
Director: Stephen Lawless
Production from the Santa Fe Opera

Media Contacts
Opera Philadelphia: Frank Luzi, [email protected], (215) 893-5902
21C Media Group: Glenn Petry, [email protected], (212) 625-2038

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© 21C Media Group, December 2015

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