"I don’t think I’ve ever come away from an opera quite so shaken as I did from Sunday’s Des Moines Metro Opera final staging of David T. Little’s "Soldier Songs" at Camp Dodge in Johnston.High emotional drama is what you expect when you go to the opera. But baritone Michael Mayes’ charged performance of this modern multimedia theater-piece based on combat veterans’ interviews was practically unprecedented in DMMO’s almost half-century history. . .
The Camp Dodge Drill Hall, a bare, airplane-hangar-sized room fitted with military displays and metal scaffolding hung with dozens of TV monitors, proved a perfect setting for scenic designer Adam Crinson’s set, a three-quarters-round thrust stage with real Humvees in two corners and a raised platform for the seven-player contemporary chamber ensemble in another.The first thing the audience hears is the dull, intermittent thud of shells exploding in the distance, and the first words – from the veterans’ tapes – are “I never talk about this with anybody.” The voices of additional veterans emerge while the video monitors begin to show contemporary TV images: animations, ads for toy guns, military parades, heroic Hollywood war-films, news clips of draft-number drawings, and Vietnam war-footage. . .
one of the chief tenets of opera has always been the primacy of the human voice as a teller of stories and a projector of emotion, and Mayes was extraordinarily effective at both tasks, whether clearly articulating a sometimes obscure text or voicing the hair-raising hum/growl/groan that begins the piece and continuing through to the finale’s last wail of grief-stricken madness.
Stage director Kristine McIntyre, also on the panel, noted that this new production was for her – and for the composer, who had been here earlier in the week – unusually meaningful for the help they had received from military personnel and families (who had witnessed the rehearsal process) in understanding both the horrors of war and how artistic endeavor can bridge the chasm between combatants and civilians." -Des Moines Register
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