If anyone questions how soldiers who may suffer from the traumatic after effects of their war experiences handle coming home they need only attend Opera Saratoga’s production of Jeremy Howard Beck’s “The Long Walk.”
The two-act opera, which had its world premiere Friday night at the Spa Little Theatre, is a remarkable achievement for any composer let alone one who had never written an opera.
Beck and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann based their work on Brian Castner’s 2012 memoir of the same name. Castner served in Iraq as the explosive ordnance disposal unit captain and this book was written after he’d been home for at least two years.
The first act was an unrelenting, aggressive, disturbing and exhausting — telling of how Castner, brilliantly sung and acted by baritone Daniel Belcher, tried to be in the present with his family but struggled with the constant memories of his unit and his duties to take the “long walk” to dismantle the bombs.
Beck composed a spare but unconventional score, which included two electric guitars, with music that had few tonal centers, used many extended instrumental techniques, pulsed rhythms and a fierce kind of energy that ranged from haunting to explosive.
The second act was lighter with more lyricism, more solos and with a tone of hope and healing — a welcome change after the dark first act. Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson’s opening aria, “I can’t follow you there,” was especially masterful for its power and emotionally charged inflections.
The singing and acting from everyone was fabulous: Johnson as Castner’s wife had a big, lustrous voice; his three men, tenors Javier Abreu, David Blalock and bass Justin Hopkins, were stalwart warriors; his three kids, boy sopranos Erich Schuett, Robert Wesley Hill and Henry Wager convinced; and sopranos Caroline Worra (in multiple roles) and Donita Volkwijn, who sang a kind of spiritual that almost stopped the show. Diction from everyone was exceptional.
Jeff Bruckerhoff’s lighting created atmosphere, and David Schweizer’s direction was focused and adept. Mimi Lien’s inventive multiple-level set allowed the 17-piece excellent and versatile orchestra under Steven Osgood to be just visible.
Although the subject matter was difficult, the crowd was rapt and at the end jumped to its feet with a roar of approval. Castner, too, took a bow.
There are three more performances of “The Long Walk,” at 2 p.m. Monday; 2 p.m. Friday, July 17; and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 25.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: