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BWW Review: GLORY DENIED at Urban Arias

BWW Review: GLORY DENIED at Urban Arias

Jim Thompson, an Army Ranger and POW of the Viet Namese for 9 years, deserves to have his story widely known. In 2001, Tom Philpott published an oral biography of Thompson; later that year, the next undeclared war was triggered. Glory Denied, a 90 minute opera based on Philpott's book, definitely contributes to raising Thompson's profile. Urban Arias has mounted a strong production of the 2007 one-act work in English through January 19 in the Keegan Theatre's space on Church Street.

Composer/Librettist Tom Cipullo's savvy decision to have four singers play Thompson and his wife, Alyce, enables him to reveal point of view without shifting it; Cipullo orchestrates the characters as if they were musical instruments-a novel dramaturgical approach which enables the audience to see Jim Thompson as an imprisoned soldier at the same time as it sees the devastated man who returned to his wife. Likewise, Alyce at 29 and the older woman she became sometimes echo and frequently differ from each other. During many ensembles, the audience has the ability to see two different times in their lives simultaneously, and this intensifies the storytelling.

Cipullo also gives each character plenty of solo music, and this cast is a starting line-up. Soprano Cree Carrico, singing the younger Alyce, ably handles an angry section about how the Army kept pestering her to sign off on allowing her husband's name to be put on a "commemorative" bracelet. Tenor John Riesen as the younger Jim Thompson, easily goes from the lyricism of a father who hung onto the mail from his family in his pocket when he was captured, including a misshapen paper star cut out by one of his children, to the dark tonelessness of a man kept in a tiger cage who creates the blueprint of a house in his mind to try to stay sane. Soprano Caroline Worra, cast as the older Alyce, has to sing "After You Hear Me Out" to the husband she hasn't seen in nine years. It's almost an aria; Worra is perfect. If there's such a thing as beyond perfect, baritone Timothy Mix is that thing. As the older Thompson, Mix sings the climax of Glory Denied, a passage which might be characterized as what could happen if "The Catalogue Aria" and "We Didn't Start the Fire" had a baby. The America to which Thompson returned in 1973 didn't resemble the one he'd left in 1964, and Mix's performance of this sobering and revealing portion of the opera is outstanding.

Projection/Lighting Designer Kathy Maxwell contributes to every aspect of Glory Denied. For projection, she's selected news footage of soldiers humping through the jungle, home movies from the 60s when men had crew cuts and women looked after children while wearing day dresses and plastic earrings, the infantry in the rain in their ponchos, Viet Namese vegetation, the text of the 1973 treaty that ended the conflict, tiger cages, that blueprint, those stars. Set Designer Adam Crinson hung the sky onstage with those same misshapen stars, put up the walls of a Hanoi prison compound onto which Maxwell could project things, and stepped out of the way: less is more. Thank you to him, and to director Kristine McIntyre. Everyone connected with Glory Denied knows how to allow documentary content to speak for itself without imposing their own "concepts."

Conductor Robert Wood leads the splendid nine-piece orchestra. Cipullo's score serves the libretto well, but it doesn't maintain its own sound. Steadfastly tonal, Cipullo's writing sometimes resembles Bernstein's and Marvin David Levy's operas and Copland's and Sondheim's orchestras. Near the end of Glory Denied, Cipullo created a glorious "meditation" for cello (Rosanna Butterfield) and piano (R. Timothy McReynolds). A montage by Maxwell accompanies this music, and her cross-cutting of previously seen images enhances the score as only visuals can; she has the soul of a film editor. At times, the balance between band and singers is off, and words get lost because of some orchestral forte. But let's keep it 100 these folks deserve a bigger venue. Urban Arias' enterprise ought to be able to be seen by more of DC's operagoing audience. That said, the Keegan Theatre makes a fine house for grand opera that's not Grand Opera. Note to the costume designer: women in the 1960s indeed wore shirtwaists, but no woman in her ninth month of pregnancy ever could. For tickets and information about the 3 remaining performances, visit

Photo by Nicholas Karlin

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