“A lot of love and death” is what one can expect from “Cold Mountain,” a grand opera opening today for a two-night run at the Granada Theatre. Originally debuting in August 2015 at Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, the opera set during the American Civil War was described by its composer Jennifer Higdon as “truly an American story,” and one “full of melody and a lot of color in the orchestra.”
Based on Charles Frazier’s 1997 National Book Award-winning novel, which was also adapted into a 2003 film starring Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, the operatic version began its creative process in 2012 after Dr. Higdon spent a couple of years reading books to find one that would lend itself to an opera adaptation. Set against a backdrop of the American Civil War, it depicts the journey of a Confederate soldier named W.P. Inman, who after serving for four years, deserts and goes on a long trek back to Cold Mountain to find his love from before the war, Ada Monroe. Along the way, Inman runs into many characters, some of whom wish to kill him.
Originally from eastern Tennessee, Dr. Higdon discovered while reading the book that the titular Cold Mountain is not too far from where she grew up. Because of the composer’s connection with the Appalachians, the story’s landscape and the people within it immediately resonated with her. However, beyond this familiarity the composer simply thought the story was perfect for opera.
“It’s someone who after fighting four years of war walks home because he wants to find his love … It’s a great opera subject,” she said.
“Cold Mountain” is Dr. Higdon’s first opera. Prior to 2015, she had won a Pulitzer Prize in Music for her “Violin Concerto” and a Grammy for her “Percussion Concerto,” both in 2010. She received a second Grammy award for her “Viola Concerto” in 2018. A busy composer and constantly working, Dr. Higdon told the News-Press that she has commissions booked until 2023.
Despite her packed schedule, she will be attending the Granada’s production and is greatly looking forward to seeing it. Among the opera’s musical qualities most often commented upon is its “soldier choruses,” she said.
“It’s very melodic, and there’s the sound of the male chorus, which is a powerful sound.”
Melody seems to have been a focus for Dr. Higdon when writing “Cold Mountain.” She strongly believes that opera needs to have “good tunes,” more specifically ones that “you’ll be humming on your way out.” The opera is entirely in English and to fit its Civil War-era, Appalachian setting, a mixture of bluegrass and classical music. For Dr. Higdon, her upbringing in the story’s general setting, which featured a lot of bluegrass music, made it relatively easy to combine the two genres.
“It probably would have been harder for somebody who hadn’t been around bluegrass at a young age,” she said.
Recalling past adaptations of “Cold Mountain,” Dr. Higdon told the News-Press that audience members have left her opera weeping, which she regards as “the ultimate compliment for a composer.” She hopes that today’s and Sunday’s show will impact people similarly, as moving the audience is her singular focus whenever she works.
“For me, the whole focus of music is to move them. … When I’m composing that’s all I’m thinking about, ‘How will this make the audience feel?’ ”Tickets for “Cold Mountain,” available on the Granada Theatre website, www.granadasb.org, range from $70 to $100. Youths 7 to 17 will be admitted free with a ticketed adult. Today’s performance begins at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday’s begins at 2:30 p.m.