Glory Denied is a chamber opera by Tom Cipullo based on a true story written by Tom Philpott. It was presented October 21 in Baldwin Wallace’s Gamble Auditorium by Baldwin Wallace Opera.
The opera focuses on the ultimately tragic story of Colonel Floyd James Thompson (Jim), who was America’s longest-held POW. Captured during the Vietnam War, Jim was held for a record-setting nine years plus. But the (dubious) glory of setting the record was not to be his because his wife Alyce denied permission for his name to be released to the public.
Thompson’s suffering continues after he’s freed. He returns home to a suspicious nation and to a wife who is in a new relationship. It’s a tragic story (after all, it is an opera) and one with two musically disparate acts. The first act seems discordant. In it jarring passages that echo the captive’s sense of loss predominate, but there are a few random and sweet sections as the young Alyce and Jim remember their love (and Jim recalls letters she wrote him before his captivity).
Act Two takes a more lyric tack as it presents what happens when Jim returns. Both young and old versions of the two characters (all stay on stage the whole time) sing, often in beautiful extended passages and move easily through time once they are reunited. All seem to continue to suffer as they are imprisoned by circumstance.
The vocally and dramatically talented cast of four included Ethan Edmund Burck (Young Jim Thompson), Gregory Gerbrandt (Colonel Jim Thompson), Kailyn Martino (Young Alyce) and Ciara Newman (Alyce Thompson). Burck, Martino, and Newman are students at BWU. Gerbrandt, the only non-student in the production, has sung the role numerous times and is scheduled to reprise it in Berlin next month.
Photos from the Vietnam era served as a backdrop (really a “topdrop” since they were projected onto ceiling baffles). They would have been more effective if they could have been behind the singers so we didn’t have to look up and then back to the singers. And, please, even though an opera is in English, it needs supertitles. Luckily the program included a synopsis to guide us.
Dugg McDonough was the stage director. A fine small professional orchestra conducted by Brian Onderdonk sat onstage behind the set (simple structures that were moved to suggest home, prison, and so forth). The opera was also performed October 19 in Red Space on Superior Avenue in Cleveland.
BOTTOM LINE: Beautiful voices in a brave contemporary opera made me care less that I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics. I’m looking forward to BW Opera’s March 21-24, 2019 presentation of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. (Now that’s an opera I can understand.)