- Expanding San Diego Opera’s mission beyond the confines of the opera house has been a primary goal of General Director David Bennett and his current board of directors. At a press conference this week (September 21) aboard the U.S.S. Midway, Bennett announced a number of community partnerships with local veterans organizations that will unfold in conjunction with San Diego Opera’s upcoming West Coast Premiere of David T. Little’s contemporary opera Soldier Songs, November 11-13, 2016.
“We wanted to explore works that are outside the traditional definition of opera, yet speak directly to the unique experiences of our community,” Bennett explained. “With San Diego’s long military history, Soldier Songs seemed like the perfect place to begin. This is an opera that does not take sides, but instead explores the cost of war to those who fight and to those who are left at home.”
Three of the participating veterans organizations—The Wounded Marine Fund, The Three Wise Men Veterans Foundation, and USO San Diego—spoke at the conference, expressing their desire to assist the company to get the message of Soldier Songs to San Diego’s veteran and military community and also to help interpret the wartime experiences of members of the military to San Diego’s civilian population.
Nathan Fletcher, a Marine Corps combat veteran and the Founder/Chairman of the Three Wise Men Veterans Foundation—as well as a member of the San Diego Opera board of directors—expressed his concern for the alarming number of returning military who take their own lives because of undiagnosed post traumatic stress syndrome. “Soldier Songs is the story of those who serve in the military told in a public way—a way that tells veterans ‘you are not alone’,” Fletcher stated.
David T. Little explained that in his interviews with veterans prior to composing Soldier Songs, a single theme arose: “I’ve never talked about this with anybody.” That is the insight that launches the opera, and the work ends with the plea to indeed talk about these experiences.
To facilitate this conversation, San Diego Opera is working on several fronts. It has already set up the website soldiersongs.sdopera.org on which active duty, veterans, and family members of those who have served or who are currently serving can post tributes to family members, loved ones and others who have mentored and inspired them in life and in service.
After each of the three Soldier Songs performances at the downtown Balboa Theatre, the company will hold a discussion on stage with cast members, the production team, and veterans to further the discussion the opera prompts. Audience members will be encouraged to stay to hear the discussion and to ask further questions of the discussion panel members.
“When we asked other opera companies that have produced Soldier Songs what they wished they had done when presenting this opera, each one affirmed that holding post-performance panel discussions was number one on their list, so we took their advice,” explained Edward Wilensky, San Diego Opera Media Relations Director.
To extend the Soldier Songs audience beyond the walls of the Balboa Theatre, the company will broadcast the Saturday night performance live on KPBS-TV, a first for San Diego Opera, although for many years KPBS-FM has broadcast delayed San Diego Opera performances on radio.
A major gift from San Diego philanthropist Darlene Shiley is supporting the production and outreach this opera, as well as other non-traditional offerings by the company that will be marketed under the Shiley dētour Series name.