After Minnesota revision, Glass’s ‘Appomattox’ wins raves

Appomattox Washington National Opera

When Philip Glass’s opera Appomattox, with text by playwright Christopher Hampton, premiered in 2007, critical reaction was muted — to put it kindly.

SF Gate called the opera “ambitious and maddeningly inconsistent.” The New York Times said the opera about the end of the Civil War was “preachy,” “ponderous,” and “prone to melodrama.”

For Glass and Hampton, it was back to the drawing board. First, Hampton revised his text for presentation as a standalone play — without Glass’s music — at the Guthrie Theater in 2012. Hampton completely reimagined the story’s second half, drawing parallels between the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Personally, I was unimpressed — but Glass was sold. “My God,” said Glass after seeing the new version, “we’ve got to rewrite the opera.”

That rewritten opera, now focusing closely on voting rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 rejection of the central components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, opened Saturday night at the Washington (D.C.) National Opera. This time, the critics are much happier.

The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette — a critic infamously averse to puffery — wrote that the new opera “sears across the stage like a firework of light and color and rage and pain and beauty.” The New York Times also appreciated the revisions (“This new act is altogether brighter and more confident,” writes Corinna da Fonesca-Wollheim), but still thinks the opera could use “another round of revision.”

Back to Minneapolis?

Production photo: Washington National Opera

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