Wortham Theater, University of Houston
Artistic director Viswa Subbaraman remembers the first time he saw proof that his contemporary, mildly “American Idol” approach to an opera competition was a success. It was 2007, and the audience was asking really serious questions of composer-finalist David T. Little about his opera “Soldier Songs.”
“There was a great moment when the audience made a connection with ‘Soldier Songs’ and compared it to the film ‘Full Metal Jacket,’” Subbaraman recalls. “David T. Little thought for a moment and realized that the first time he had seen Full Metal Jacket was about two weeks before he began composing the opera. It was a moment where both the composer and the audience began to truly understand the experience of watching opera.”
Little’s work, a winner in 2007, is one of two operas being given full stagings this year in an expanded edition of the Opera Vista Festival, now a partnership between Subbaraman’s company of that name and the ever-creative theater troupe called the Nova Arts Project, under the direction of Clinton Hopper. In the spirit of any great collaboration, the two bring different skill sets to the festival: the opera company its mastery of playing and singing, the theater company its flair for making magic on stage.
“Soldier Songs” is described as an evening-length multi-media solo cantata that explores the soldier in terms of perception versus reality. The work features newly discovered aerial film of the Vietnam War, plus still photos from Vietnam and Iraq, plus recorded interviews with veterans of five wars. A chilling view of the nature of power during wartime, Soldier Songs asks some tough questions – and seeks to tell us some stories we may not want to hear.
Also fully staged this year is Little’s co-winner in 2007, “Edalat Square” by R. Timothy Brady. Political views and music are nothing new to Brady, having as a music student composed a score for Tim Robbins stage production-in-progress of “Dead Man Walking” – which Robbins, of course, also made into an award-winning film starring his wife Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. “Edalat” tells the true story of two young men in Iran who were hanged for homosexuality in 2005. In the opera, the soul of the square where the executions took place emerges from the poetic essence of Sufi mystics.