Coming home from war: A Seattle opera in one act
If your idea of opera is a 19th century tragic love story, Seattle Opera has some news for you.
Sure, the company presents classics like “Carmen” and “Barber of Seville.” But on November 15, Seattle Opera will present the local premiere of a new chamber opera, "The Falling and the Rising,” that addresses the challenges for soldiers who return home from battle. The 70-minute, one-act opera, was composed by Zach Redler with a libretto by Jerre Dye.
“It’s a story about a woman who suffers a TBI — a traumatic brain injury — while serving overseas,” Dye says. “She’s put into an induced coma, where she interacts with many of her battle buddies who give her guidance and get her back to an awakened state.”
Dye, Redler and their fellow collaborator, Ben Hilgert of the Army Field Band and Chorus, based the opera on interviews with more than 30 active duty and veteran service members. Dye credits Hilgert with the original idea.
“The U.S. Army Field Band, they have incredible singers and musicians,” Dye says. “A lot of the singers were just like, ‘Man, it would be great to have content in our wheelhouse.”
A half dozen opera companies, including Seattle Opera, served as co-commissioners for this work, which premiered in 2018 at Texas Christian University.
The intent was not only to create work for the Army Field Band and Chorus, but to help push the 19th century art form into the 21st century, with an emphasis on contemporary topics.
In a way, commissioning new work takes opera back to its roots as a populist art form, according to Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Seattle Opera’s director of programs and partnerships.
"It's really storytelling through music and song," Valarino Boyer says. “We’re coming into an era that’s defining what 21st century opera sounds like.”
Although the Army Field Band and Chorus performed in the Texas premiere, the opera was intentionally written to accommodate amateur choruses, which is what Seattle Opera chose for the local production.
Twelve military veterans were recruited by Path With Art, a Seattle-based organization that offers classes and other training opportunities for people recovering from homelessness, addiction or severe trauma.
One of the local chorus members, Melodie Clarke, served only a short stint in the army before she received a medical discharge. Over the years since then, she’s weathered a couple of stints without a home, after leaving an abusive marriage.
For Clarke, singing in “The Falling and the Rising” brought her back to her military days, when she developed close bonds with her platoon mates.
“I found a family in the service,” says Clarke. “This is family again.”
Seattle Opera hopes audiences will make those same connections to “The Falling and the Rising.”
The Puget Sound region has a significant military population, and Seattle Opera has reached out to many of the organizations that serve them.
Valarino Boyer believes “The Falling and the Rising” is material that will connect with people who never imagined they’d come to an opera house. She hopes to see a significant presence of active duty service people and veterans in the audiences.
“I keep saying we’ll be really successful if the audience is 50/50, vets and active duty personnel as well as civilians," she says.
Melodie Clarke’s goal for this production is much simpler.
“I want people to know everyone has a story,” she says. “You may not see it by looking at them, but everyone has a story.”