US Army Field Band Connects Civilians and Soldiers Through Opera
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
The mission of The US Army Field Band & Soldiers' Chorus is to serve and inspire the American people by telling the Army story and honoring our soldiers and veterans at home and abroad. "The Falling and the Rising" is a new American opera based on the true stories of dozens of active duty soldiers and veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, The Old Guard at Fort Myer, and Fort Meade, Maryland.
The idea for the opera began in 2015 when a tenor in the Soldiers’ Chorus, Staff Sgt. Ben Hilgert, first proposed the idea of telling the Army story through an opera. He took his idea for a "Soldier's Opera" to the Army Field Band's commander, Colonel Jim Keene, who saw the potential and invited him to submit a proposal that received the green light. After months of searching, SSgt Hilgert found collaborators in librettist Jerre Dye and composer Zach Redler. The opera was commissioned with funding from Texas Christian University, as well as some of the most prominent opera companies in America, including the Seattle Opera, San Diego Opera, Arizona Opera, and Opera Memphis.
"We wanted to work with opera companies that had a history of military connections, but we wanted to have veterans and active duty soldiers be the ones to tell their story and then bring it to the opera stage,” said SSgt Hilgert, who joined the Soldiers’ Chorus of the US Army Field Band in 2010 after a successful opera career.
At an opera conference in the following year, Hilgert met with American Opera producer Darren Woods, who is now the executive producer of “The Falling and The Rising” along with Hilgert.
"When I heard about ‘The Falling and the Rising,’ I knew I wanted to be involved in its creation and its production. The powerful story of service and sacrifice told through the eyes of a female soldier is one of the most moving operas I have ever produced,” said Woods.
The opera chronicles the imagined journey inside the mind of a soldier following traumatic brain injuries suffered during a roadside attack. Throughout the story, she makes her way through a coma-induced dreamscape punctuated by powerful encounters with other fellow service members, each on the brink of discovery.
Together, they must find clarity, consciousness, and communal hope inside a strange and ever-shifting universe. This operatic soldier’s odyssey was created to honor the indomitable spirit of our military veterans and to shed light on the power of their often-overlooked stories.
The opera is not only a powerful story for those who haven’t had the opportunity to serve in the military, but also for those now serving our country. The work is deliberately compact in duration, cast, and instrumentation, and a set was designed for easy portability. The accompanying ensemble comprises a string quintet, a wind player, a brass player, a guitarist, two percussionists, and a pianist.
“I have a whole new understanding of my role as a soldier,” Hilgert said. “You can’t hear those stories and it not change you. This project tells the Army story in a very human way. The stories contained in the opera speak truth to the service of soldiers, while at the same time highlighting the resiliency and strength demanded of them."
The world premiere for "The Falling and The Rising" will take place in Ft. Worth at the Texas Christian University April 6-8, 2018. Admission is free, but a ticket is required. Ticket information can be found here.
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