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Reviews

16 Nov 2016

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

San Diego Opera's Shiley dētour Series presents Soldier Songs

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Baritone David Adam Moore is the Soldier [Photo courtesy of San Diego Opera, copyright Karli Cadel]

 

Upon entering the theater, the audience was greeted by low rumbling sounds that erupted into soft-edged explosions every few minutes. It was somewhat unnerving as it continued unabated until the presentation began, but the idea was to give the incoming audience a tiny taste of what it is like to be in a war zone. The mood didn’t get any lighter when Director Tomer Zvulun and design group GLMMR began to show a verismo version of the three stages of a soldier’s life.

In Stage One, the child, acted by Ryan Singer, plays with guns and video games. He enjoys chasing other children with guns. Children chant slogans about killing people with strange clothes and funny names. Video games simulate war and the child onstage thinks going to war is very much like playing a video game. The finality of death has completely escaped the youngster.

In Stage two, the child has grown up and enlisted in the military. Played by David Adam Moore, the Soldier sang with strong virile tones and excellent diction. In this presentation all the music was amplified in Garth MacAleavey’s sound design. There were titles in case anyone missed a word, but they were not altogether necessary.

After enlisting, the Soldier learned some hard truths: Getting shot hurts and soldiers actually die in combat. Casualties of war don’t get up and go home in the way that those shot down in video games or children’s stories do. Only when the soldier saw a mutilated body lying on the ground before him, did he begin to understand what war could do to the warrior. Then, he began to realize that he might be maimed and return home disabled or that he might lose his life and return in a coffin.

In Stage Three, actor Dan Denison showed the audience some of the thoughts of veterans who were lucky enough to have returned home. Contemplating what soldiering had done to them, they found they had trouble talking about their overseas experiences with people who had not been to war. Later, members of the "Talk Back" Panel noted that some veterans have had more trouble reintegrating into American society than others. Unfortunately, returnees who need psychological services may be embarrassed to ask for them. It’s sad to see that some veterans do not learn to cope with life in the United States and end up homeless.

The woman veteran on the "Talk Back" Panel said rejoining normal life in the States was harder for women because military trainers negated much of what girls had been taught growing up. As a child, she had been taught to nurture but as an adult she had learned to join in doing harm. Coming home she was again expected to be nurturing rather than aggressive, and it did not come easily. In business, for example, we expect men to be much more aggressive than women.

In Soldier Songs David Little combined the sounds of far off artillery and percussion with flute, violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. Conductor Steven Schick, a renowned percussionist, is well known for his performances of contemporary music. He paid a great deal of attention to detail and gave an impressive rendition of this unusual score.

Soldier Songs is not for the faint of heart. It takes the audience into war-like situations and shows the average American who has never seen a war zone what some soldiers have to endure. It also points out the lack of understanding many parents and children have regarding the difference between playing violent games and actual violence. High school youngsters, in particular, need to know what the dangers of war are for those who join the military. I think performances of Soldier Songs in San Diego did a great deal to bridge the gaps between soldier, veteran, and civilian.

Maria Nockin


Cast and production information:

Cast and Production Information:

Soldier, David Adam Moore; Child, Ryan Singer; Elder Man, Dan Denison; Conductor, Steven Schick; Director Tomer Zvulun; Production Design, GLMMR: David Adam Moore, Victoria “Vita” Tzykun; Lighting Designer, Maxwell Bowman; Sound Designer, Garth MacAleavey; Supertitles Coordinator, Charles Arthur; San Diego Symphony: Violin, Wesley Precourt; Cello, Chia-Ling Chien; Flute, Erica Peel; Clarinet, Frank Renk; Percussion, Erin Douglas Dowrey and Andrew Watkins; Piano M. Barranger.

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