New opera lets veterans tell their stories through music
"Just don't grow up too fast, OK?" a female soldier begs in the video she sends home to her daughter. Given the distance, it is as happy a mother-daughter moment as they could wish for.
Then, tragedy hits. The female soldier is injured and placed into a medically-induced coma. In that dreamscape, she encounters other soldiers, each of whom is trying to find their way to healing and home.
For the first time, veterans' stories are being told through the new opera "The Falling and The Rising." Petite Opera Productions proudly presents the Chicago premiere in Park Ridge.
Conceived by U.S. Army Sergeant Ben Hilgert and brought to life through the libretto of Chicago's own Jerre Dye and the music of Zach Redler, "The Falling and The Rising" is a soldier's operatic odyssey that captures the indomitable spirit of our U.S. military. Its purpose is to connect soldiers and civilians using art.
Originally created from interviews with active-duty soldiers and veterans, the opera shines a light on their inspirational and often untold stories of family, service and sacrifice inside a period of great uncertainty.
The Petite Opera Production features professional vocalists and a chorus of military veterans. The stories told in the opera really strike a chord with veterans involved in the show and those that see it.
"I've been a military veteran for over 60 years, and this is the first production that has truly told the story of what we went through," said a veteran from the Battle of the Bulge.
"The different characters in this opera are bringing out all of the different aspects of what veterans are running into, and what is happening in the veterans' community right now," said Ron Kobeluch, a veteran who appears in Petite Opera Productions veterans chorus.
"The production actually has the power to heal veterans."
John Mundt, who specializes in treating veterans agreed.
"Veterans telling their own stories -- singing their own stories -- to other veterans and the general public is a quintessential example of peer support. It is the best way to convey to veterans that there are people out here who actually get what is happening to them."
"These stories, told through music, are just so powerful," said Major Jeremy Haynes, one of the original soldiers whose story inspired the opera.
Veteran Patrick Tobin said, "The emotions evoked from being in Soldier's shoes bring back a flood of memories. And, most importantly, the realization that I did take a vow ... not just a promise to lay my life down, not just for my fellow Airmen, but for my country."
And the production touches civilians by helping them step into veterans' lives. As veteran John Gordon said, "This production provides a great service to all veterans, their families and communities by this powerful and graphic display of what our military members experience in their daily lives and, more importantly, when they are wounded and recovering."
Petite Opera Productions Stage Director Cathy Dunn summed up the civilian patrons perspective: "The entire production is so incredibly moving. When the military chorus appeared, I felt such an overwhelming surge of gratitude and pride that tears came to my eyes. It was truly an inspirational and life-changing experience, and I knew we needed to bring this to Chicago."
Petite Opera Productions' "The Falling and The Rising" runs 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 24 at The Mary Wilson House-Beyer Auditorium, 306 S. Prospect Ave., in Park Ridge.
Tickets are $30 for adults; $27 for seniors; $25 military; $15 students; and $5 preschool children. Box Office opens one hour before show time. For tickets and information, visit petiteopera.org.
Petite Opera Productions' musical direction is by Qiyun Dai, with stage direction by Cathy Dunn. Directors of production are Steven Arvanites and Susan Baushke.
The production features: Carla Janzen and Mary Lutz-Govertsen as Soldier; Sarah Ponder as Toledo; Nathan Oakes as Jumper; Dorian McCall as Colonel; and Brandon Sokol as Homecoming Soldier.
Veterans military chorus is comprised of Laura Finnelly, Earl Holtz, Ron Kobeluch, Bill Kwaak, Thomas Love, Ramona Pozek, Marvin Schnabel, Rachel Simmons and John Van Alstin.
Petite Opera Productions is a charitable nonprofit company dedicated to creating life-changing experiences for new patrons of live opera and full-scale musical productions in various genres. All productions are presented in English and suitable for new patrons.
The company specializes in updates and translations of classical works, and new and topical works that go beyond entertainment.
For information, visit petiteopera.org or call (847) 553-4442.