Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s groundbreaking New Works, Bold Voices series will feature the 2018 world premiere of the full-length version of An American Soldier, by critically acclaimed composer Huang Ruo and Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang. The opera will be the fourth world premiere in the series, which emphasizes the creation of American works, the telling of compelling modern stories, and themes of common humanity in today’s world. A 60-minute version of the opera was commissioned by Washington National Opera and premiered there in 2014 as part of WNO’s American Opera Initiative. The opera will be expanded into a full-length work for its premiere in St. Louis.
An American Soldier is based on the story of the tragic death of Chinese-American Army Private Danny Chen, who took his own life while stationed in a guard tower at a base in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Based on the ensuing courts-martial of Chen’s fellow soldiers, An American Soldier addresses issues of patriotism, cultural identity, belonging, and otherness. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Artistic Director James Robinson, who previously collaborated with Huang Ruo on the American premiere of Dr. Sun Yat-sen at The Santa Fe Opera, will direct.
Composer Huang Ruo has been lauded by The New Yorker as “one of the world’s leading young composers” and by The New York Times for his “distinctive style.” His diverse compositional work spans from orchestra, chamber music, opera, theater, and dance to cross-genre, sound installation, multi-media, experimental improvisation, folk rock, and film. His opera Paradise Interrupted received its world premiere at the Spoleto Festival USA in 2015. Another performance of the opera is coming up at Lincoln Center Festival in 2016 before going on tour to Asia and Europe. His opera Dr. Sun Yat-sen will receive its Canadian premiere in 2017 at the Vancouver Opera. He was also recently named the composer-in-residence for Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam and National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan.
Librettist David Henry Hwang is one of America’s leading playwrights, acclaimed by TIME as “the first important dramatist of American public life since Arthur Miller.” His many plays include M. Butterfly (which earned him his first Tony nomination and award), Golden Child, Yellow Face, Chinglish, and Kung Fu. Named America’s most-produced living opera librettist by Opera News, he has written four works with composer Philip Glass, and collaborated on projects with Osvaldo Golijov, Phil Collins, Elton John, and Unsuk Chin. In 2014, he became the director of Columbia University’s School of the Arts’ M.F.A. program in playwriting.
“We are thrilled to be working with Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang on this project,” said Timothy O’Leary, General Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. “As artists, they embody the kind of probing, meaningful work we aim to advance through Opera Theatre’s New Works, Bold Voices series. It’s an honor to be collaborating with them, and with our friends at the Washington National Opera, who commissioned and premiered the first version of An American Soldier. Through the moving story of Private Danny Chen and his family, this is a work that addresses the very question of what it means to be an American.”
Operas from the New Works, Bold Voices series have already established themselves as significant new additions to the American operatic repertoire, earning strong reviews during their premieres in St. Louis and continuing on to important subsequent productions. Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s Champion receives its West Coast premiere in a co-production with SFJAZZ and Opera Parallel in February 2016. Its East Coast premiere will be announced in March 2016. Similarly, Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek’s “27” opens at Pittsburgh Opera in February 2016 and will make its New York debut in October 2016.
The world premiere of An American Soldier is made possible by the Fred M. Saigh Endowment at Opera Theatre and with leadership gifts from the Whitaker Foundation, the Berges Family Foundation, and the Ferring Family Foundation. The opera will receive its world premiere during Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s 2018 Festival Season, opening June 3, 2018. Details about additional performance dates and casting will be forthcoming.
About Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a springfestival of inventive new productions, sung in English, featuring the finest American singers and accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony. As of its 40th anniversary 2015 Festival Season, Opera Theatre has presented 24 world premieres and 25 American premieres (including the 2015 production of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart)— which maybe the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company. Described by the Sunday Times of London as “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis annually welcomes visitors from nearly every state and close to a dozen foreign countries. Although the size of the theater typically limits box office income to less than aquarter of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of the highest quality while never accumulating a deficit.
Opera Theatre also has a long tradition of discovering and promoting the careers of the finest operatic artists of the current generation. Among the artists who had important early opportunities at OperaTheatre are Christine Brewer, Susan Graham, Nathan Gunn, Patricia Racette, Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Dawn Upshaw, Matthew Polenzani, Sylvia McNair, Erie Mills, Dwayne Croft, Kelly Kaduce, and Lawrence Brownlee. Opera Theatre has always been known for distinguished leadership: founding general director Richard Gaddes was succeeded in 1985 by general director Charles MacKay, with famed British stage director Colin Graham as artistic director and Stephen Lord (1992– present) as music director. Timothy O’Leary was named general director in October 2008 with acclaimed stage director James Robinson succeeding the late Colin Graham.
Opera Theatre is a sustaining member of the Arts & Education Council of Greater Saint Louis, and receives major support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Missouri Arts Council.
Generous leadership support for the services of the St. Louis Symphony is provided by Jack C. Taylor and the Taylor family.
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