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An Opera in an Airplane Museum Honors Veterans

There are plenty of films about war and its effects on both soldiers and civilians, but few modern operas. Composer Tom Cipullo became one of the first to translate a true war story to the operatic stage when he wrote his chamber opera, Glory Denied, in 2006. The libretto is taken directly from journalist Tom Philpott’s oral history of Colonel Jim Thompson, who, as the longest-held POW in the Vietnam War, suffered almost 10 years of imprisonment in the jungles of Southeast Asia, four of which were in complete isolation. “What does a person have to do to survive that?” The opera raises this and other tough questions.

Glory Denied may be the first opera adapted from an oral history,” writes the composer.  “As such, it presents no linear narrative. Rather, it jumps from moment to moment, as a man’s mind might leap when subjected to horrific stress. Virtually all of the dialogue in the opera is taken literally from actual statements by the real people involved.”    

HGOco Director Carleen Graham decided to honor Houston’s veterans by producing Glory Denied, not in an opera house, but in the Hangar Building of the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport. “It’s not going to be a typical night at the opera and that’s the point of it,” she told Arts & Culture magazine. “It’s going to be thought-provoking. When you are hearing the planes take off, that’s part of the visceral experience.”

Graham will direct the opera, which will be conducted by HGO assistant conductor Geoffrey Loff.  The cast includes HGO Studio alumnus Ben Edquist, Kerriann Otaño, Alexandra Smither, and Mark Thomas.        

Glory Denied will be presented on November 6 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40, and you may purchase online or by calling 713-228-6737. Veterans can call for a special promo code for 50% off the ticket price. Valid veteran identification is required at the time of ticket pick-up. Purchase a ticket at half price to allow a Houston veteran to attend Glory Denied for free by selecting the “donate a ticket” option when purchasing your tickets online. You can also honor a veteran by name with your ticket donation. Completing the form does not confirm one’s donation. In order to complete the donation, the ticket buyer still must select the “donate a ticket” button.

Glory Denied is part of HGOco’s Veterans Songbook project, which began in 2014 with a series of workshops for veterans.  Partnering with WITS (Writers in the Schools), veterans wrote about their experiences for therapeutic and cathartic reasons. HGOco then commissioned several area composers to set these stories and poems to music.

On November 11, Christ Church Cathedral will host the final concert interspersed with spoken word presentations in collaboration with Alley Theatre’s The Telling Project: Houston. The concert, at 2:30 p.m., will be free and open to the public.