Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

Inspired by Walt Whitman’s Civil War poetry and prose, CROSSING was recently mounted in concert-recital form at The Wallis as part of L.A. Opera’s Off Grand Series. The youthful conductor, Matthew Aucoin, also wrote the music and libretto for this new American opera, which was first produced in 2015. Following CROSSING’S successful debut, LA Opera made Aucoin its first artist in residence and agreed to produce the West Coast premiere of CROSSING.

Whitman, America’s greatest poet, served as a volunteer nurse during much of the Civil War, caring for the wounded in a Union military hospital. It was a traumatic experience for Whitman, who was exposed to so much pain and suffering that he eventually had a nervous breakdown. Contributing to his mental problems was the anguish he suffered from a failed love affair with a young soldier who betrayed him in a number of despicable ways.

Baritone Rod Gilfry, who made his LA Opera debut back in 1986, performed as Whitman, creating a tragic but flawed hero

who found himself overwhelmed by the horrors of war. His struggle to keep from going insane–-and to cling to his faith in humanity–-made for powerful drama. Gilfry, a towering presence on stage, acted and sang with impressive fervor and skill.

Tenor Brenton Ryan, another LA Opera favorite, took on the role of the wounded soldier, John Wormley. His gripping portrayal of the confused and conflicted young man was memorable. Davon Tines, as the escaped slave Freddie Stowers, also stood out vocally, as did Liv Redpath as the Messenger of Peace (and the only woman in the opera).

The news brought by the Messenger (and a 12-person male chorus) didn’t mean much to the patients in the hospital; war had wrecked the lives of these ex-soldiers, sent them into a Dante-esque hell from which they would never escape.

Aucoin’s melancholic score underlined the savagery of the civil war, a war in which man’s inhumanity to man overwhelmed everything good in the American soul.