Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 23, 2021

REVIEW: Berkshire Opera Festival, “Glory Denied”

Berkshire Opera Festival, Great Barrington, MA
through July 24, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

After the Covid-19 pandemic limited their 2020 season to two virtual events, BOF’s sixth season is its biggest yet, presenting two fully staged operas and a free concert of music inspired by Shakespeare. If their opening production of Tom Cipullo’s 2007 “Glory Denied” is any indication, 2021 could also be BOF’s most exciting season to date.

With a libretto adapted by the composer from Tom Philpott’s 2001 oral history of the same title, the opera is based on the true story of Colonel Jim Thompson, America’s longest-held prisoner of war. Captured in South Vietnam by Vietcong forces in March 1964, he was released nine years later in March 1973. Raising their four young children and assuming Jim is dead, his wife Alyce was by then living with another man.

Tenor John Riesen
The opera’s four characters - younger and older versions of Jim and Alyce – are portrayed at BOF by a uniformly outstanding cast of four experienced singers, who also assume a few smaller roles (Vietnamese guard, Pentagon spokesman, etc.). Baritone Daniel Belcher’s older Jim was bitter, tenacious, and irascible. Tenor John Riesen brought youthful energy and vulnerability to younger Jim. Soprano Caroline Worra captured the anguish and determination of older Alyce with unerring authenticity. And soprano Maria Valdes found both the girlish naivete and the growing desperation in younger Alyce. 

BOF Chorus Master and Assistant Conductor Geoffrey Larson led a fiery performance of Cipullo’s vibrant and communicative score. The warm, intimate acoustics of the 300-seat McConnell Theater in the Daniel Arts Center of Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington insured that every note played by the crack nine-member ensemble from the BOF orchestra was clearly heard.

Staging by director Sarah Meyers and scenic designer Cameron Anderson placed the characters on separate but adjacent platforms, which allowed for the minimal interaction in the libretto through memory and reality but emphasized their fundamental isolation from each other. Colorful costume design by Charles Caine, sensitive lighting by Tlalok Lopez-Watermann, and omitting an intermission intensified the 80-minute score’s visceral impact.

This searing production demands to be seen and confirms BOF’s stature as a leading presenter of world-class professional opera.