THE LONG WALK
There are two of me now.
There are two.
A 2-act opera based on Iraq veteran Brian Castner's memoir of the same name, The Long Walk mines the impact of war and its fallout on a family. Commissioned by American Lyric Theater.
music by Jeremy Howard Beck
libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann
Premiere: Opera Saratoga, July 2015
conducted by Steven Osgood
with Daniel Belcher (Brian), Heather Johnson (Jessie), Justin Hopkins (Jeff), David Blalock (Ricky), Javi Abreu (Castleman), Caroline Worra (Aunt Sarah / Iraqi Woman / Shrink), Donita Volkwijn (Iraqi Woman / Perneatha / Yogini), Henry Wager (Sam), Bobby Hill (Virgil), Eric Schuett (Martin)
dramaturg: Cori Ellison
Utah Opera, March 2017
conducted by Steven Osgood
with Daniel Belcher (Brian), Megan Marino (Jessie)
Pittsburgh Opera, January 2018
David Shengold I July 13, 2015
"A notably successful world premiere..."
"Beck's apt score, eclectically sourced but individual in timbre, represents one of the more effective integrations of rock elements (including two electric guitars) and prerecorded material I have ever heard. Despite relatively small instrumental forces, Beck managed a wide variety of textures and sustained narrative tension with shrewd rhythmic choices. Stephanie Fleischmann based the smart libretto...on Brian Castner's 2012 memoir of overcoming ordnance-disposal service in Iraq and his resultant brain traumas and alienation from his heroic wife, Jessie, and their three children. The result gripped July 13's matinee audience at the Spa Little Theater and should be seen at other companies that have a relatively intimate stage and commitment to operatic work rooted in contemporary issues."
"Fleischmann...cleverly juxtaposed Brian's conflicting loyalties to his three buddies and his children..."
"This was a strong, moving show."
THE NEW YORK TIMES / An Iraq Veteran's Homecoming, with Arias
C.J. Chivers I July 10, 2015
"With this memory of an exchange that would fit neatly into Greek tragedy—an old widow's prophecy and a young wife's reflexive defiance, set against a journey to distant war—Jessie stakes a place beside her ailing husband. The plot's tension is set, taut as a drawn bow."
"There is a scene near the end of the production that does not appear in the memoir, which Fleischmann wrote after traveling to Buffalo to meet the real Jessie. In it, Brian is away on a business trip. Jessie and their sons dash happily through their house, laughing, tickling one another until they are short of breath. In Brian’s absence, they have found relief.
Virgil, one of their sons, dares to say it: 'I wish Daddy wasn’t coming home.'
Jessie snaps back. 'You don’t mean that,' she says.
But he does. Watching the rehearsal, I glanced at the real Castner. Fleischmann, with the inserted scene, had taken control of Castner’s primary character and had one of his sons lay him bare.
'This is tough to watch,' he said, and then acknowledged, softly, that Fleischmann had it right."
CLASSICAL SINGER / Necessary Art
Emily Nelson I December 2017
From a first-person memoir, Beck and Fleischmann have fleshed out a drum-tight narrative that moves between psychological realities. Brian suffers from memory loss and flashbacks from the war that tear into his peaceful suburban home life. Jessie and their three sons face the challenges of building a life in the shadow of trauma. There is a lot of story. Its impact comes in waves, skillfully building to different points in a well crafted narrative. A piece of brilliant theater, there is not one wasted moment.
Afterward, a composer friend of mine said that he felt choked up on the verge of tears from the moment the opera began, and that the sensation didn’t fully release until the whole thing was over. There was simply no time for the analytical brain to weigh in for fear of missing something, and I had the feeling that we were all along for the ride. It felt as if we in the audience were breathing—sometimes not breathing—together in that rare communal experience that theater can sometimes be.
Beck’s score has a way of creating musical scenery that flows seamlessly from one number to the next....Most of the time, I forgot that the music was there at all. “New music” or not, it is all there to tell the story.
Throughout the opera resonates an urgent question: How can a soldier be two people? All my life I have heard the familiar rhetoric of American heroism—the man of courage defending us from harm, who then returns to live with a loving family. But I had never fully considered how these two identities can split someone’s life in half. It seems like too much to ask of a human being to be responsible for life and death, to be constantly ready to die or to kill, and then to come home and somehow see the world as a safe place. This is the kernel of why this opera is such an important work that should be widely performed. It’s an American story that people need to hear.
Brian describes the writing of his book as a biological need. “The story was coming out one way or another,” he says. Belcher told me that this opera “had to be written,” as if its creation was inevitable. I can see his point. This is necessary art because it’s not just about the characters onstage, it’s also about those of us sitting in the audience. Without works like this, without this opera, how can regular civilians know these things? No one ever told me.
ALBANY TIMES UNION / No, 'The Long Walk' is not your typical Opera
Amy Biancolli I July 16, 2015
"And while Beck's music is not strictly tonal, it has a fierceness, an almost frightening volatility, that aims for the gut and hits it. When two Iraqi women wail at the sight of their dead children, their wild soprano keening nearly drives Brian (baritone Daniel Belcher) to violence.
Or listen to his three boys. 'There once was a soldier...but he felt like a stranger, not like a dad,' they sing, lamenting their father and 'the war that followed him home.'
Later, in a bit with yet more pathos and powerful harmonizing, Brian and his fallen comrades sing of love, dust and bomb suits.
This is haunting, haunted stuff....The Long Walk may focus on the experience of one ordnance expert from Buffalo, but its narrative hits on all that make us human."
..This is what art does or should do: tell an intimate story that resonates universally. It shows us who we are. And "The Long Walk," for all its death and trauma, portrays us as survivors, suffering but pressing ahead, pounding the pavement on a long run toward normalcy. It ends on a note of resilience and light that answers the darkness of that first act.
On Friday, the crowd rose to its feet with whoops and cheers."
KSL.COM / Opera Music is the Soundtrack for a Utah Soldier's Life on the Home Front and the Battlefield
Sandra Olney I May 1, 2017
"Castner's return to civilian life plays out like an intense battle on stage as his personal war with anxiety and post-traumatic brain injury rages on. Castner shared that he thinks "The Long Walk" as an opera is more powerful than his book. "There's just something really primal and human about seeing somebody's life on stage," Castner said.
B.A. Nilsson I July 16, 2015
"Adapted from a memoir by Castner, the opera...is a shattering, very moving portrait of mental imbalance, right up there with Wozzeck in its use of music and lyrics and the tools of the theater to explore the contrasting, contradictory facets of a war-damaged soldier.
Like Wozzeck, it's episodic and makes intelligent use of musical form. But where you might expect again an atonal approach, The Long Walk is surprisingly lyrical, with solo moments suggestive of late Strauss."
"It's an ironically endearing number, with Fleischmann's simple, direct lyrics floating on a bed of Beck's spare melody. The music does what music does best, making an immediate emotional connection."
"The Long Walk is a masterpiece, a story that needs to be told in a form that needs to be used in this manner. Live theater is never as compelling as when music is a part of it; a piece like this brings out all the best aspects of opera."
Doug Fabrizio, March 30, 2017
SCHMOPERA / Daniel Belcher Returns to THE LONG WALK
"Jeremy [Howard Beck] and Stephanie [Fleischmann] have lovingly crafted a very special and visceral piece of new music theatre."
NPR: DECEPTIVE CADENCE / A Veteran's Piercing True Story Leaps from Page to Stage
Quil Lawrence I July 20, 201
OPERA NEWS / American Lyric Theater Alumni Concert at National Sawdust
Henry Stewart I November 15, 2015
"The highlight was Jeremy Howard Beck’s The Long Walk (libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann), a harrowing work, based on an Iraq War veteran’s memoir, that had its premiere in 2015 at Opera Saratoga. Its musical intensity reflects its psychological anguish, to which baritone Scott Purcell was frighteningly committed. But it could also be steeped in despair, like an aria sung by mezzo Heather Johnson, “I used to think we’d travel to the ends of the earth”; its sweet melody glided over mashed dissonant chords as the piece transitioned emotionally into fury, with a woman at her breaking point. Johnson was effectively exasperated, and the performance was wrenching, especially in the intimate space that is National Sawdust."
Photos: Gary David Gold