* Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of Appomattox was last night. On the whole, I found the music, libretto, and production rather dark and a bit heavy-handed. The music, unsurprisingly, is reiterative and the singing style more declamatory than lyrical. There are no soaring high notes, but this does keep the text clear, at least when the balance between orchestra and singers was right. The two male leads are both baritones, but their voices are distinct enough from each other. The soprano role of Julia Dent Grant is significant, she begins the piece a cappella, there is no overture at all, and she ends the opera along with a women's chorus.
The choral parts are lovely, especially the Civil War era "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" at the end of Act I Scene 1, the black Union soldiers singing in Act I Scene 4, and the song concerning Jimmie Lee Jackson in Act II.
The set has a modern sensibility, lots of metal and such, but with period furniture and costumes. There were disturbing visual elements such as the cart full of amputated body parts in the Prologue and dead horses hanging from the ceiling in Act I Scene 4 and the Epilogue.
Though Act I is completely set in April 1865, Act II is interspersed with scenes in the from Reconstruction, the Selma to Montgomery marches, and a present day first-person account of the Mississippi civil rights worker murders. Though it is true that the ramifications of the American Civil War exist even now, these jarring direct links provided by the libretto are somewhat preachy and disconcerting.
I have not a few impressions on the singing thus far, but will wait until after the opening to solidify my opinions.
* Tattling *
There were several groups of students at this performance and they were somewhat loud and had to be hushed several times. For the most part they were quiet after that except during Edgar Ray Killen's aria at the end of Act II. The opera has ten instances of American English's most troublesome racial slur, more than half of which are in the aforementioned aria.
Baritone Thomas Hampson, who just sang in "Das Lied von der Erde" last week at San Francisco Symphony, was in attendance, as was Amy Tan, whose book The Bonesetter's Daughter is to be premiered as an opera next year.