“It’s a wonderful sound world that composer Jennifer Higdon has created," Mitchko said. "It’s a very interesting musical characterization. All the characters have different sounds. There’s a superb use of individual instruments in the orchestra to create color and underline the text.”
Performing this music doesn’t come without challenges. Melinda Whittington, who plays Ada, said that despite the lyrics being in English, it is very difficult to sing.
“It’s worth it, and it’s beautiful, but it’s really challenging,” Whittington said. “As students we study Mozart style and Puccini style … and these are styles in which our ears kind of naturally know what’s coming next. This is Jennifer’s first opera, and now I’m learning Higdon's style of music.”
Despite the unfamiliar music, this will be a story that hits home for many people, particularly for Whittington, who graduated from UNC in 2005.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my career, to come back to campus as a professional,” Whittington said. “I love being involved in art in my home state. It makes me really proud.”
Whittington is not only performing in her home state but also performing about it. “Cold Mountain” takes place in North Carolina, namely in Raleigh and Cold Mountain.
The story being set in North Carolina means that it appeals to a wide range of audiences, including students, as the narrative and the history behind it is likely very familiar.
“In a very loose sense, it may be based on ‘The Odyssey,’” Mitchko said, “where Inman and Ada are like Odysseus and Penelope.”
Yet at its core, “Cold Mountain” is a story about love.
“It’s an incredibly moving love story at the heart of it,” Whittington said. “It’s a part of our story as North Carolinians, and it’s really powerful.”
“Cold Mountain” is being performed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 1 at 2 p.m.