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|The Passion of Jonathan Wade|
|Opera by Carlisle Floyd|
The composer in 2008
November 10, 1962
The Passion of Jonathan Wade is a musical drama in three acts by the American composer Carlisle Floyd, who wrote both libretto and music. It tells the tragic story of a Union officer, sent to administer the city of Charleston, SC at the end of the Civil War, who marries the daughter of a local judge. They become outcasts, both to the embittered citizenry of Charleston and to the zealous New England carpetbaggers eager to profit from Reconstruction.
The opera’s plot was invented by Floyd, based on an idea suggested by his wife. Dr. Joseph Glatthaar of the University of Houston served as historical consultant on the revised version.
The music originally embraced tonality and traditional musical idioms such as the spiritual. The revision, by a much older composer with more eclectic musical tastes, features more dissonance and bitonality.
The Civil War is over. The citizens of Columbia, South Carolina, lament the sorrow and horror of the war. Colonel Jonathan Wade, with his aide, Lieutenant Patrick, leads the Northern troops of occupation into Columbia and greets Judge Townsend with kindness, but the Judge's daughter, Celia, scorns Jonathan.
The judge invites Jonathan to his home and describes the residence's beauty before the war and its mistreatment by Sherman's troops. The maid, Nicey, deems Jonathan a good man, but Celia denounces him for not understanding the depth of Southern suffering. Jonathan bitterly reveals his own losses from the war, and the two young people begin to understand one another.
Northern pardon brokers selling citizenship to ex-Confederates arouse the indignation of Judge Townsend. Lucas Wardlaw, a hotheaded Southerner, expresses the resentment for Northern reformers. With the arrival of Enoch Pratt, chief of the Freedmen's Bureau, tensions erupt. An evening party at the Townsends' home disintegrates as the Southern citizens furiously refuse to submit to the Northern reforms preached by a fervent Pratt.
Several months later, during a confrontation with Jonathan, Lucas demands back his old way of life, the way of privilege and slavery. Enoch Pratt insists that Judge Townsend be removed from the bench and that the Radical Republicans should use reform as a means of securing future political power. Jonathan sees the shortcomings of all the extremists' demands.
Celia confesses her love for Jonathan, but Lucas taunts the couple with hints of vigilante reprisals. Jonathan's appeal to higher authority to spare Judge Townsend is denied, and he undergoes an agony of conscience. He announces to the Townsends the Judge's dismissal. Judge Townsend rages violently against Jonathan; Celia, though torn between her love for Jonathan and her father, accepts Jonathan's offer of marriage. Her father renounces her.
At the wedding, Nicey sings a spiritual about the wedding feast at Canaan. The Guardian Knights of White Men's Rights harass Nicey and her friends, but Nicey bravely faces them down. Jonathan and Celia try to shelter themselves from the world with their love.
Jonathan's attempts to remain impartial have only angered both Northerners and Southerners. Pratt accuses Celia of influencing the Colonel and enlists Lieutenant Patrick in a plot to destroy Jonathan. Judge Bell, Judge Townsend's replacement, resigns in disgust at the political corruption, and Jonathan loses his last ally. Pratt tries to provoke Jonathan into insubordination and court-martial, and an order arrives commanding Jonathan to confiscate all of Judge Townsend's possessions. Celia and Jonathan react in anger, fear, and confusion; they yearn for another time and another place where they might find peace. Jonathan decides to desert. Townsend publicly denounces the North, and Jonathan and Celia discover that Lieutenant Patrick has carried out the order of confiscation. Sensing a trap, they plan to escape the country. Suddenly, Jonathan's guards capture three Guardian Knights, Lucas among them, about to burn a torch on Wade's lawn.
In the middle of the night, the full contingent of Guardian Knights arrive to free Lucas, while Union soldiers, led by Pratt and Patrick, also surround the house before attempting to arrest Jonathan for insubordination. Shots are fired, and Jonathan is killed; both sides begin to blame each other. Kneeling by Jonathan's side, Celia silences them, accusing both sides of the murder of a good and decent man. Nicey prays that God accept Jonathan into heaven.
Main roles and World-Premiere/Revision Premiere cast
- Colonel Jonathan Wade – baritone (Theodor Uppman)/(Dale Duesing)
- Celia Townsend – soprano (Phyllis Curtin)/(Sheryl Woods)
- Judge Townsend – bass-baritone (Norman Treigle)/(Julian Patrick)
- Lieutenant Patrick – tenor
- Young Girl – soprano
- Nicey Bridges – mezzo-soprano (Miriam Burton)/(Débria Brown)
- J. Tertius Riddle – bass-baritone
- Lucas Wardlaw – tenor (Frank Porretta)/(Joseph Evans)
- Enoch Pratt – tenor (Norman Kelley)/(John Duykers)
- Union League Orator – tenor
- Sergeant Branch – baritone
- Wounded Confederate Soldier – baritone
- Four Black Boys – boy soprano and baritone quartet
- 1st Soldier – tenor
- 2nd Soldier – bass
- 1st Black Senator – tenor
- 2nd Black Senator – baritone
- 1st Carpetbagger – tenor
- 2nd Carpetbagger – baritone
- Judge James C. Bell – baritone (Andrew Frierson)/(Donnie Ray Albert)
- Judge McBride – non-speaking role
- Carriage Driver – speaking role
- People of Columbia, Guardian Knights, Union Soldiers, and Nicey's Friends
Floyd’s most epic and ambitious opera, The Passion of Jonathan Wade was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and had its world premiere at New York City Opera on October 11, 1962. Julius Rudel conducted and Allen Fletcher directed. Following those performances, it languished for several decades. In 1986 Floyd, who had taught at the University of Houston since 1976, listened to a tape of the 1962 performances with David Gockley, General Director of Houston Grand Opera, and HGO’s music director, John DeMain. The three immediately began discussing a revision and new production of the opera. Julius Rudel told David Gockley in 1987 that Jonathan Wade was one of the two new operas Rudel had presented at New York City Opera which deserved revival. Floyd thoroughly revised the opera over the course of two years following a co-commission by the Houston Grand Opera and the Greater Miami Opera. The revised version premiered at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts in Houston on January 18, 1991, conducted by John DeMain and directed by Carlisle Floyd. The new co-production, designed by Günther Schneider-Siemssen and Allen Charles Klein, was subsequently presented at Greater Miami Opera, San Diego Opera, and Seattle Opera.
- http://www.boosey.com/pages/opera/moredetails?musicid=2891 The Passion of Jonathan Wade, Libretto, Boosey & Hawkes © 1990
- http://articles.latimes.com/1990-09-24/entertainment/ca-847_1_jonathan-wade Kenneth Herman (24 September 1990), “‘Jonathan Wade’ Gets New Lease on Life,” Los Angeles Times
- Operas in English: A Dictionary, p. 367, Margaret Ross Griffel, Scarecrow Press 2012
- https://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/02/arts/opera-s-revision-defines-a-composer.html Roberto Suro (2 February 1991), “Opera’s RevisionDefines a Composer,” New York Times