World Premier of work by Philip Glass is a sure-fire American Classic
By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel
APPOMATTOX is the perfect American Opera. Its story of the surrender of the Confederacy to the Union Army is a cornerstone of American history and an artery of the human experience. The look and feel of our Civil War – its imagery, poetry, politics, rhetoric and music – hovers bright and clear in the currency of campaign speeches, street marches, Supreme Court arguments, week-end sermons, sports and entertainment commentary, sometimes whipping in the breeze from an available flagpole. Composer Philip Glass has produced an amazingly persuasive vocal score that sits comfortably in the operatic column – inviting and compelling to all. The musical structures and vocal lines are all at once familiar in the ear, strident in the heart, close and intimate in the collective memory. APPOMATTOX, the Opera is a series of iconic tableaux. Mr. Glass has teamed with librettist Christopher Hampton (Oscar Winner, DANGEROUS LIAISONS; Tony Winner, SUNSET BOULEVARD) to create both psychic tension for unseen battles and reports of thousands of soldiers suddenly slaughtered to the disturbing on-stage realities of dead horses strung-up for food and a child shot during an evacuation. A scene with blood-red lighting by designer Christopher Akerlind evokes the horror of blood-soaked earth, another approaching dawn – and memories of the famous crossroads scene in “Gone With The Wind”. Likewise, fashions created by Gabriel Berry are as rich and smooth as those of MGM period designer Walter Plunkett.
APPOMATTOX – Grant and Lee, between the lines
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (Jeremy Galyon) and MARY TODD LINCOLN (Heidi Melton)
APPOMATTOX is a collector’s dream of hinged daguerreotypes; a Mass comprised of interrupted arias, battle hymns, lamentations, anthems of betrayal, hope and warning. These richly-colored tones of the Civil War, encased by composer Philip Glass, are a wreath of associations – stems for trust and sadness, gallantry and conceit, urgency, loss, despair and peace. The music is wrapped in the bunting of patriotism and secured by ribbons of watered black silk. Resonating within the harmonies of APPOMATTOX are the disturbing overtones of Lincoln’s realization, “What has occurred in this case must ever recur in similar cases.”
ROBERT E. LEE (Dwayne Croft) and Mary Custis Lee (Elza Van Den Heever)
ULYSSES S. GRANT (Andrew Shore) and JULIA GRANT (Rhoslyn Jones)
Conductor Dennis Russell Davies, in his San Francisco Opera debut, will lead the performances through October 20th. A champion of new music and a long-time Glass collaborator, Davies has premiered many of the composer’s works, including the world premiere of AKHNATEN, the European premiere of THE VOYAGE, and the premieres of seven Glass symphonies. Baritone Dwayne Croft returns to San Francisco Opera to create the role of Robert E. Lee. Bass-baritone Andrew Shore makes his Company debut in the role of Ulysses S. Grant.
JULIA AGNES LEE (Ji Young Yang) and BRIGADIER GENERAL EDWARD ALEXANDER (Chad Shelton)
The cast features members of San Francisco Opera Center’s prestigious Adler Fellowship program in the roles of Mary Custis Lee, Julia Grant, Julia Agnes Lee, Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckley, T. Morris Chester, and Abraham Lincoln, and also includes tenor Chad Shelton (Brigadier General Edward Alexander), bass-baritone Philip Skinner (Edgar Ray Killen), and bass John Minágro (General Howell Cobb). A chorus, singing the text of authentic civil war songs, will represent one of the historic regiments of African-American Union soldiers. Sara Jobin will conduct the final performance on October 24, which also features baritone Brian Leerhuber as Robert E. Lee.
T. MORRIS CHESTER (Noah Stewart) and ELIZABETH KECKLEY (Kendall Gladen)
Appomattox explores the characters of Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant and the final days leading up to the April 9, 1865 meeting of these two military commanders at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the rural central Virginia village of Appomattox Court House. The opera examines this epochal moment from America’s past while also reflecting on events in modern history, such as the 1960’s Civil Rights movement. Traditional Civil War-period costumes designed by Gabriel Berry are juxtaposed against Riccardo Hernandez’s timeless set. The production’s steel show curtain evokes the brutalities of war. Raw materials such as steel, leather and concrete combine to create a world that allows the past and present to exist simultaneously.
APPOMATTOX – ACT I (sic semper tyrannus)
Committed to developing a vital American operatic repertoire, David Gockley has chosen Appomattox as his first commission for San Francisco Opera. The work represents his fifth project with the composer. Previous Gockley/Glass projects include the 1984 American premiere of Akhnaten and 1988 world premiere of The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 at Houston Grand Opera. Appomattox is one of the twelve diverse San Francisco Opera 2007-08 Season productions – ten of which are new to San Francisco audiences – comprising the first season programmed by Gockley since becoming the Company’s general director in January 2006.
See Seán’s recent You Tubes: SAMSON & DELILAH – Meet Seán Martinfield
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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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