Prisoners of War — and Peace
A fractured American dream home serves as the setting for Glory Denied in a production concept now on exhibit as part of OA’s Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Showcase. Tom Cipullo’s 2006 chamber opera tells the true stories of Jim Thompson, a soldier in Vietnam who became the longest-held American prisoner of war, and his wife, Alyce, struggling to move on with her life in his absence. It has inspired the production team — director Ashley Tata, scenic designer Stephan Moravski, costume designer Liene Dobraja, lighting designer Abigail Hoke-Brady and projection designer Brad Peterson — to come up with a concept that draws parallels between the two characters’ circumscribed lives.
The individual rooms of the unit set, with their idealized 1960s décor, stand on platforms, as if in a Sears showroom. Dobraja’s costumes characterize the four characters — older and younger versions of both Alyce and Thompson — who simultaneously inhabit the set. The prim pink house dress of Younger Alice and the crisply pressed uniform of Younger Thompson capture the optimism of the early 60s, while the drab 70s rags of Older Alyce and Older Thompson convey post-war disillusionment. Over the course of the opera’s two acts, lighting and projections evoke the Vietnam jungle, as well the contemporary American political and social landscape. “In our production, Alyce’s bars of matrimony and motherhood, while not as obvious as those of a POW cell, become equally relevant to the action,” says Tata.
The Glory Denied exhibition, running through February 2018 at the National Opera Center, is the first of three from of the 2017 round of the Director-Designer Showcase, a biennial program supported by the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund. Over the next two years, two more finalist-team exhibitions, both presenting concepts for Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, will bow at the Opera Center. The Director-Designer Showcase presentations from Opera Conference 2017 are available on OA’s YouTube channel.