Huang Ruo's An American Soldier: Reviews

Huang Ruo's An American Soldier: Reviews

»Thanks to composer Huang Ruo and the playwright David Henry Hwang, the creators of this powerful work, we’re listening now… An American Soldier… is convincing, driven by Mr. Hwang’s rueful libretto and Mr. Huang’s arresting music… a richly orchestrated two-hour work… Elements of modernist atonality, Asian-inflected styles, jazz and eerie atmospheric noise course through the taut score. Yet you sense Mr. Huang in control of every detail. Whole stretches crackle with sputtering rhythms and skittish riffs. Strange, fractured fanfares, like would-be military marches, keep recurring. But during reflective passages, searching vocal lines are backed by tremulous harmonies and delicate instrumental flecks. Both the subtle colorings and pummeling intensity came through in the compelling performance. An American Soldier ends magnificently…«
The New York Times (Anthony Tommasini), 13.06.2018

»Powerful and disturbing…. “An American Soldier” ruthlessly tracks the cruel unraveling of that dream, demonstrating the toll that racism takes on a person who tries to jettison his identity in pursuit of a unity that doesn’t exist. Nothing is ever stable in Mr. Huang’s haunting music, which reflects Danny’s adolescent turmoil and the violent undercurrent of military life. Even in overtly peaceful moments, like a duet in which Josephine and Danny look at the moon from opposite sides of the globe, the mood is one of loss rather than sentimental recollection. The eerie sound of a didgeridoo accompanies Danny’s ghost, and while Mr. Huang doesn’t employ Chinese instruments, hints of their percussive and timbral qualities permeate the score, suggesting that Danny’s Chinese identity goes deeper than he’d like to believe. The vocal writing is similarly evocative; Josephine’s high, florid lines recall Chinese opera, and dissonant harmonies of a lullaby sung by Danny’s mother also seem to come from another world. Even the added funeral chorus, “E Pluribus Unum,” is clearly a statement of an ideal, not reality.«
The Wall Street Journal (Heidi Waleson),12.06.2018 

»In fiction, justice is almost always done. That’s not the case in “An American Soldier.” It’s based on real life. Tautly told... captures important aspects of an all-too-brief life... There’s a lot of language not commonly heard on the operatic stage, but it’s authentic to the story. Ruo’s music was an intriguing blend of East and West, varying according to character; it was spiky, but that suited the subject matter. The musical effects for the ghostly version of Danny were effective in establishing the mood. It tells a powerful and important story.«
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Sarah Bryan Miller), 04.06.2018 

»With immigration and racism particularly raw issues right now, a new work at Opera Theatre of St. Louis digs, painfully and insistently, into uncomfortable realities. Huang Ruo and librettist David Henry Hwang, portrays scenes of appalling military brutality, with language as rough as you'd expect from soldiers. Huang's orchestral writing admits only occasional respites from nervous modernist pulsings, chatters and fractured fanfares; harmonies are never uncomplicated. But we also see — and identify with — human beings who just want to do the right things. This is powerful theater, with music to match.«
Dallas Morning News (Scott Cantrell ), 14.06.2018 

»If you think about Danny Chens, or the legion of men and women who are Mr. Chens, you’ll know him, and my belief is you will probably never forget him, especially if you are in the audience of a performance of composer Huang Ruo’s and librettist David Henry Hwang’s An American Soldier. I’m averse to saying, “run, don’t walk, to the box office,” but in this case the advice, the supplication in fact, obtains: This opera may make you weep, but through weeping comes moral and cultural nourishment. Danny Chens are everywhere, and they are you and a they are I, and from this many we are one.«
St. Louis Magazine (Robert W. Duffy), 04.06.2018 

 Picture of An American Soldier
An American Soldier, St. Louis 2018

»Ruo’s music is appropriately jarring given this subject featuring sustained intensity Listening to this music over a two-hour period is not to experience a series of ups and downs. Rather it is to incrementally take something away from the listener with the cumulative effect of leaving an audience member emotionally spent by the end. One is worn down by a series of body blows as opposed to a knockout punch by Ruo’s score. “An American Soldier” is blunt in asking what it means to be an American and for Asian-Americans in particular, since they are largely overlooked. Opening night of this world premiere was a stirring and disturbing affair in which Pvt. Chen’s actual mother was in attendance. This sensitive opera provides no easy answers in revealing truths about America that she refuses to face.«
OperaWire (Santosh Venkataraman), 07.06.2018 

»But perhaps the best way to hear Danny’s story is to hear it sung. Director Ozawa's commitment to telling the raw truth of Chen's story doesn't subtract from the astonishing stagecraft and surprising beauty of the production... The story is gripping, timely, briskly told... An American Soldier will keep echoing in you long after you've left.«
ALIVE Magazine (Kea Wilson), 07.06.2018 

»Huang Ruo’s fluidly blended music features both Chinese and Western modalities. The more traditional characters, such as Mother Chen (mezzo-soprano Mika Shigematsu), sing pentatonic lines that suggest Chinese folk song and lullabies (the pentatonic scale is the black keys on the piano). The more Americanized characters, such as Danny (tenor Andrew Stenson) and his friend Josephine (soprano Kathleen Kim) sing in a more contemporary Western style, though inflected with motivic themes from their own Chinese background especially when in dialogue with Mother Chen. Sgt. Marcum (bass-baritone Wayne Tigges) is the embodiment of a hateful, racially privileged psychopath. The script is so expressive that Huang’s orchestra often becomes a subliminal element. You may need to keep a hanky handy for this powerful and moving work.«
People’s World (Eric A. Gordon), 08.06.2018 

»As part of its New Works, Bold Voices series, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis commissioned the world premiere of this affecting, well-performed piece written by composer Huang Ruo and librettist David Henry Hwang. The true story of its source material is elevated with this poetic and profound interpretation. That version debuted at Opera Theatre on Sunday, June 3, 2018 to great acclaim by its audience. Part of the reason that the opera is so well told is [the] multi-faceted scenic design as well as the fine performances elicited by Ozawa from his uniformly splendid cast.«
Ladue News (Mark Bretz), 05.06.2018 

»You want to see the opera several more times to appreciate all the composer has done with music to create a masterpiece... A fierce tiger mother... she ranges seamlessly from fury to fear to tenderness... It is rare in contemporary opera to find the drama and the music so successfully intertwined.«
Berkshire Fine Arts (Susan Hall ), 04.06.2018 

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