APPOMATTOX-World Premiere of revised version, New Produtcion of
Philiip Glass/Christopher Hamptom’s opera at the Kennedy Center-November 2015
The Washington National Opera’s Artistic Director Francesco Zambello commented in her program notes that Diaglogue of the Carmelites on her emotions regarding this opera based on her visit to the burial site in Paris of 14 Carmelite nuns who were slaughtered eduring the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, on July 17, 1794.
The recent production of Appomattax had a similar resonance for me, albeit of different places and times.
Let me divert from being a critical reviewer and explain. The opera which has been revised, is now in two acts. The first is set in the week in 1865, before the Civil War is officially concluded by Grant and Lee at Appomattax Court House. The second act is set 1965, when the Lincoln White House is now Lyndon B. Johnson’s domain and the issue is the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The two acts are like the front and back of a book,and what is in between in a 100 years
is a story that does not go to a peaceful end.
For me, the two acts were startling— like two different parts in my life. No, I was not alive
in 1865! but I lived in one of the main arenas of the Civil War, where four battles were
What I saw as a child I saw photographs from the 1860’s of my home town that looked remarkably unchanged in post WWII USA. While Americans celebrated Victory in Europe and Japan, the remains of destruction of the Civil War were still to be found with bullets in my school yard, the site of the Battle of Fredericksburg. It was a town with two Civil War cemetaries,
one for the Union and one for the Confederates, a town with separate bathrooms and water fonts and waiting rooms for white and black.
In 1965, I entered Act II when I moved to DC. I came to know some of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. As a theater critic, I am used to seeing people I know on the stage. Seeing people I knew —and some whom I marched with —portrayed on an opera stage at this production of Appomattax was another level of experience.
But I digress. The opera has received both wide praise as well as side comments. I find it difficult to do either because of what it was about my personal history that I brought to this premier revision performance.
Many operas have historically gone through revisions in subsequent productions but Appomattax’s revision is being dictated by history itself. The stories on television news—50 years after the Civil Rights Act—are waiting to take their places on stage as Act III
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