Reviewed by Sherri Streichman
Glory Denied, an opera in two tableaux by Tom Cipullo,tells the story of Major Jim Thompson, the longest-held American prisoner of the Vietnam War. Based on a book by Tom Philpott, it employs two singers as the younger and older Thompson and two singers as the younger and older Alyce, his wife.
Performances began last weekend (Nov. 10-12) and conclude this coming weekend (Nov. 17 and 19) at Tri-Cities Opera’s Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton.
I’ll ask my usual question first: Is it worth the money? That depends on why you go to the opera.
The libretto is brilliant. The first tableau takes place during Thompson’s captivity. Alyce, waiting at home, sends letters about the children, the weather, and the daily minutia of the wife of a serviceman, both before and after she learns that Jim’s plane has been shot down.
The second tableau takes place after Thompson’s release and return home. He is man out of time, in a world he doesn’t understand, and his wife has been living with another man.
Director Cara Consilvio made the most of the available playing space in the Opera Center’s Savoca Hibbitt Hall: two ramps, two flat spaces, a bench and screen. The images projected onto the screen – war scenes and domestic scenes, images of the time by Scenic Designer Tialoc Lopez-Watermann — added to the drama without distraction.
Although the diction was generally quite good, the texture of the vocal lines made the supertitles by Carina Kahane very helpful. Costumes, designed by Susan Johnson, and wigs, hair, and makeup, designed by Shushu Vaughn, were appropriate, as was the lighting by Abigail Hoke-Brady.
Scott Purcell, as the older Thompson, showed himself to be very comfortable in a wholly dramatic role, portraying the myriad of emotions. Even in the anger, jealousy and bewilderment of the “Welcome Home” monologue, his voice remained beautiful. Stacey Geyer, as the young Alyce, was the sweet homemaker with children, keeping the home fires bright in the style of the 1950s and early ’60s “little woman.” As always, her singing was masterful.
The other two singers are new to me, but just as believable. Frederick Schlick, as the younger Thompson, sang his music with ease, outlining the terrible conditions which he suffered yet survived by dreaming of his family.
Tascha Anderson, as the older Alyce, was bitter, tired of it all and wanting to move on with her life. In a beautiful moment I’ll call “after you hear me out,” she explained to the older Thompson that all the things she did were to keep her children together and well.
All four singers did phenomenal work in learning and memorizing an unforgiving vocal score.
Music: I didn’t like it. See previous sentence.
While singers refer to their voices as their “instrument,” it shouldn’t be treated like a sound synthesizer. The music was harsh in the captivity scenes, and a little more lyric in the women’s scenes, but it was not vocal in any case.
In addition to the two solo sections for Purcell and Anderson mentioned above, the best musical moments for the singers were in the first tableau. Young Thompson spouts out the propaganda he is being bombarded with while the others sing lyrically of the gold star his daughter has made for him. And in the ending of that tableau, he sings Psalm 23, punctuated by thoughts of the other three performers.
The orchestra fared better. Conductor Joshua Horsch had his orchestra solidly together in uncomfortable music about an uncomfortable era.
I was a student in high school and college (Binghamton U.) during the Vietnam war. While I was not one to behave badly to returning soldiers of a war I disapproved of, I also didn’t think deeply about what those servicemen and their families went through. This opera brought those experiences home to me. As I watched, I wondered how many in the audience had similar thoughts. A sold-out house gave yesterday’s performance (Nov. 12) a standing ovation.
IF YOU GO: Glory Denied will be performed again at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 17, 19) at the Opera Center. Tickets: Visit www.tricitiesopera.com, or call 772-0400.