We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Jaely Chamberlain and Brett Pardue

Adam Cannedy and Margaret O'Connell

We spent a most pleasant evening aboard the Baylander IX-514 thanks to Opera Upper West;  Artistic Director Alexandra Fees sure knows how to create an event! The immersive event comprised a performance of Tom Cipullo's opera Glory Denied graced with a number of elements suggestive of what the Vietnamese call "The American War" and which we call "The Vietnam War".  It all depends on one's point of view. The event was part of New York Opera Fest, celebrating the diversity of indie opera in New York City.

The Baylander IX-514 is the only surviving aircraft carrier left over from the Vietnam War. It was used for helicopter landings and in the 80's was used to train pilots for that function. It has since been remodeled and repurposed.

The event included libations on deck which suggested the 1960's (does anyone remember the Mai Tai which we believe should also be restored to trendiness) with a background of 1960's music, and a tour of the ship from its port captain.

No one saw fit to dress in 1960's attire!

After the cocktail hour and tour of the ship we were ushered to a lower deck for the performance of the opera with Mr. Cipullo in attendance.

Glory Denied is based upon an oral history published by Tom Philpott concerning Colonel Floyd "Jim" Thompson who was a Major in the Special Forces when his plane was shot down in 1964. He was held by the Viet Cong for 9 years, 5 of which were in complete isolation. He endured unthinkable torture and interrogation. He survived by living "one day at a time" with the help of his religious faith.  Onstage was a tiny area which marked out the claustrophobic area in which he was confined.

Because of his wife Alyce's refusal to release his name, another man was honored as the longest held captive.

His wife established a relationship with an army sergeant who joined her in raising the four children, one of which was born while Thompson was in captivity. She told the children that their father was dead. We guess we could all agree that the poor guy got a raw deal!

It was helpful to read something about the story in advance because there were no titles and singing in English is always hit or miss as far as comprehension is concerned. The one aria that was quite clear was that sung by baritone Adam Cannedy in which the phrases were short and punchy--"tune in, turn on, drop out". This aria expressed his sense of dislocation upon returning to an America that he didn't recognize.  This was, for us, the most affecting part of the opera, reminding us of the Rip van Winkle story.  Nowadays, we wake up to a new world every day!

The English language is choppy in rhythm; setting long declamatory lines containing a lot of information leads to incomprehensibility and vocal lines that are neither interesting nor memorable. So, although we enjoyed the singing and the staging, this is not an opera we'd care to hear again.  Our major "test" for opera is, firstly, is it tuneful, and secondly, do we want to hear it again. Sadly, we rarely encounter a contemporary opera that passes both tests!

The libretto was taken directly from interviews and from letters involving both Jim and Alyce. In the opera, the younger Jim was sung by tenor Brett Pardue with soprano Jaely Chamberlain singing his young wife Alyce. The older Jim was sung by Mr. Cannedy with soprano Margaret O'Connell performing the role of the older Alyce. Various scenes permitted interaction between all four characters, an interesting premise. All four voices were excellent and the acting served the story well.

Alexandra Fees made a fine director, drawing upon her own resources as a singer.  (We have noticed how many times we admire the direction of an opera and then learn that the director has a background as a singer.)

Mr. Cipullo's angular score was well played by pianist Ishmael Wallace with Phil Rashkin conducting. There were missed opportunities for lyricism.

We had a fine evening of immersive theater. We just did not care for the music. We thought the story would have made an excellent play but it did not ask to be set to music!

(c) meche kroop

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