US Army commissions an opera

We are disturbed to learn that San Diego Opera has co-commissioned a new work with the US Army which ‘captures the spirit of the U.S. Military and explores themes of family, service, and sacrifice.’

The task of an Army is to make war. The job of an opera house is to make opera.

No useful purpose is served by blurring those roles except, perhaps, in San Diego’s case, to please the Texas garrison. This feels all wrong.

Press release below:

San Diego Opera’s 2019-2020 season comes to a close with Zach Redler’s opera about military spirit with The Falling and the Rising. The Falling and the Rising opens May 8, 2020 at 7:30 PM at the Balboa Theatre as part of the dētour Series. Additional performances are May 9 at 7:30 PM and May 10 at 2 PM.

The Falling and the Rising is a co-commission between San Diego Opera, the US Army Field Band and Soldier’s Chorus, Seattle Opera, Arizona Opera, Opera Memphis, TCU, and Seagle Music Colony. The Falling and the Rising centers around an unnamed female Soldier who is severely wounded by a roadside IED. Placed in an induced coma to help minimize the extensive trauma to her brain, the soldier must now make a journey towards both healing and home. With a libretto taken from dozens of interviews with active duty soldiers and veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, The Old Guard at Fort Myer, and Fort Meade, Maryland, The Falling and the Rising tells a story of family, service, and sacrifice inside a period of great uncertainty. The opera stars Sergeant First Class Teresa Alzadon (soprano) as the Soldier. She is joined by mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Florez as Doctor 1, baritone Babatunde Akinboboye as Doctor 3, and bass Walter DuMelle as Doctor 4. Casting for Doctor 2 will be announced shortly. Alan Hicks, who directed the season opener Aida, returns to stage the action. Bruce Stasyna, who will have last conducted The Barber of Seville by the time the opera opens, returns to lead these performances. The set and lighting designer is Chris Rynne, who last lit the season opener Aida. The video designer is Caroline Andrew. These are the first San Diego performances of The Falling and the Rising. The opera received its world premiere in 2018 at Texas Christian University. The Falling and the Rising will be performed in English with English text above the stage.

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  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    The real task of an army, in a civilised state, is not to make war, but to maintain peace & protect the country from hostile forces.

  • michael says:

    This is an interesting co-commission and a great idea.

    If this disturbs you, then you have problems you may want to address.

  • V.Lind says:

    What matters is whether it is any good musically. Are there no reviews from its earlier production?

    I would be suspicious of anything involving the US Army too. The involvement of their money suggests a propaganda piece. Is it?

  • for the Vaterland says:

    You shouldn’t be concerned, Norman. North Korea does this sort of thing all the time…

  • WillymH says:

    As if there are no operas about war, armies, service et al! Well there goes half the repertoire. Would you feel less disturbed if it weren’t the US Army?

  • Ruben Rosario says:

    Who in the Hell does this ignorant review person think they are?
    Soldiers come with all kinds of talents.
    As an ex USArmy Vet myself We did Shows and helped keep the Morale up.
    Events like this Opera keep Soldiers alive and away from suicidal thoughts.
    Sounds like Norman Lebrecht is a freaking Snob who should stick to things he has a clue about.

  • B.R says:

    Norman,

    The task of an Army is as Mr. Kandan described it in his well worded comment. Our military does far more than “make war”. I recommend basing your opinion off of more than simple press stories because they are often inaccurate and jaded; your story as example. However, thank you for utilizing your freedom of speech, which by the way, an army granted you. Disturbing.

    • for the Vaterland says:

      Yeah, we all know the threat Vietnam and Iraq presented to our freedom. So will killed 4 million people in those two wars.

  • pfo says:

    I might to interesting to actually see who actually commissioned this : 4 operas, a university, a singing organisation specialising in operas and musical theatre, as well the Army’s Field Band and Chorus. In all, only musically minded organisations who pitched in.

    You say “The task of an Army is to make war. The job of an opera house is to make opera.” – Well in this case, you’ve got plenty of musicians and musical organisations who simply wanted to commission an opera based around war. Not very disturbing IMO.

    And with such a wide variety of commissioners, I highly doubt this would become propaganda.

  • Laura KP says:

    San Diego, CA is home to one of the largest active and retired military personnel communities in the United States. From a community outreach perspective this makes perfect sense: all opera companies (and symphony orchestras, and choruses) ought to be taking the pulse of their local communities and finding ways to build bridges to the vast majority of members who do not attend live performances. If this gets 100 more people through the doors to experience for the first time the magic of live classical music performance, all to the good! And with *new* music, too! Win-win-win!

    • Willymh says:

      Exactly. At a recent national conference for Canadian Orchestra management we had a speaker from the San Diego area who had turned around the fortunes of a local art gallery/performance space by going out into the community with the attitude what can you give to us as an arts organization not “here’s what we’re giving to you, aren’t your grateful?”

  • Miguel Cervantes says:

    San Diego Opera has gone through a major downsizing in the last few years. If this is what they need to do to stay afloat, so be it.

  • Nijinsky says:

    And when do we get a nice Modern version of Violetta then? Also about modern struggles such as brain damage one isn’t given clear cause for. Jesus being a gay porn star as Violetta would be in the same vein maybe, with one of the current non castrati of males singing female parts, because in that case a current soprano with added lingam would just be so yesterday.

  • Anne says:

    So if you now believe “the task of an Army is to make war,” presumably you no longer feel the same way about cuts to military bands as you did in the past, when you quoted this: “A country’s military music-making matters and reflects its military prowess. In countries such as France, Britain and the US, military music is not an afterthought but a bona fide career for accomplished musicians. Although they are trained soldiers, the musicians spend most of their time rehearsing and performing…”

    https://slippedisc.com/2018/01/next-cut-the-british-armys-music-ensembles/

    (Also, this: https://slippedisc.com/2016/06/just-in-us-congress-curbs-military-bands/ )

  • fflambeau says:

    “captures” is a verb here and hilarious.

    The role of the army is to kill people, pure and simple.

  • fflambeau says:

    A better name for this:

    “It’s our world: love it or leave it”;

    “We can change anything, (including your popularly elected government”);

    “The world as we know it” (without “climate change”);

    “Sempre Fidalis Uber Alles”

    “We own you: lock, stock, and barrel”

    “Joy through Strength”

    “From the Ministry of Peace…”

    “You are grist to our Mil (itary)”

  • fflambeau says:

    In the change of title sweepstakes:

    “Sorry About That; We’re Just Following Orders”;

    “Armageddon: the Peaceful Opera”;

    “Great MILITARY Expectations”;

    “We’re the boys in blue, green, and camouflage: look out for us as we stampede your women and rape your cattle”

    “We are all Good Soldier Schweiks”;

    “Power Comes From the Barrel of a Very Big Gun”.

    “Delta Force: The Opera”.

    “We lost to the Viet Reds but we’re Winning Opera Goers Worldwide”

  • fflambeau says:

    Or you might like:

    1) “We had to Destroy this Earth to Save it”;

    2) “The 1,000 Year Reich Lives On”

    3) “Making the Wold Safe for our Kind of Democracy”;

    4) Who said Adolf lost?

    5) “KILL: the opera with a big heart.”

  • Already knew says:

    Hahahaha! How slow are you on the draw? This opera has been performed for years, including in NYC, Seattle Opera, New Orleans Opera, a small Chicago company, and on and on.

  • Sharon says:

    I very recently saw a revival of Thunder Rock, an English play, and later a movie, which while not originally government commissioned, was subsidized by the British government so it could play on the West End and aid in the propaganda effort during the Second World War.

    It was about a veteran of the Spanish Civil War suffering from what today we would call PTSD who, after connecting with ghosts from the past, recognizes that the “arc of history bends towards justice” and decides to involve himself in fighting the Japanese invasion of China just prior to WWII.

    Music as well as most of the other arts, has always been used for political purposes but the arc of music, especially classical music, is towards peace. I remember the very moving documentary of Leonard Cohen at an English Woodstock type festival where angry people were about to riot was able to turn the mood of the festival around with a concert after he spent a few days at prayer.

    Military bands in the United States frequently give free community concerts and and in some case even may make themselves available for charity fund raisers.

    Remember that whatever effort a military organization makes towards the arts, even if it is only for the morale of their own troops, is less time, money and energy that is spent on training and preparing to kill people.

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