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Veterans fill chorus in soldiers’ opera in Seattle

'The Falling and the Rising,' presented by Seattle Opera last November. (Photo by Ziggy Mack)

When an opera about the military is performed in Seattle this month, it will, for the first time, feature a chorus full of U.S. Military veterans.

The opera, The Falling and the Rising, was commissioned by the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldier’s Chorus.

“The opera is based on interviews with soldiers and veterans in recovery at Walter Reed Medical Center,” said Alejandra Valarino Boyer, with Seattle Opera Programs and Partnerships.

Boyer says the story centers around a soldier who suffers a traumatic brain injury from a road side bomb.

“She is placed in a coma, and during this medically induced coma, she is having these very vivid dreams,” Boyer said.

Soldiers appear in the soldier’s dreams to support her as she recovers and transitions home. Each soldier also reveals his or her own challenges. One is disabled, another mourns the amount of time he had to spend away from family, and another left the military only to realize it was home.

Chorus member Melodie Clarke understands that.

“I went into the Army mainly to escape an abusive home,” Clarke said, but she was medically boarded out because of asthma. “I found a family and got torn away from them.”

Fellow troops weigh on the heart of Ryan Mielcarek, too. While serving with the Navy SeaBees, he was deployed to Iraq.

“As SeaBees, we’re in a support role and I always say I never feel truly exceptional,” Mielcarek. “I feel exceptionally obligated because I never got the worst of it.”

While the opera’s lead rolls will be performed by professional singers, the chorus is comprised of veterans from the organization, “Path with Art.”

“We’re specifically focused on adults who are living in and recovering from all manner of trauma,” explained Path with Art Executive Director Holly Jacobson. “We provide opportunities for people to reclaim their narratives, connect back to themselves and back to community through the power of art.”

The veterans say that as they perform this opera about a soldier’s journey home, they find healing.

“When you’re singing with other like-minded people and the love that we show each other — it feeds your soul. And your soul needs to be fed,” Clarke said.

“We are meant to live in harmony,” said Navy Veteran Mertiss Thompson. “We have some outside agencies that come in and kind of attack that, but we can always go within and get back to the state.”

“Let us sing together. Let us live together!” Thompson added.

Mielcarek said, that’s the point of this performance.

“Theater is the veteran art form,” Mielcarek said. “Theater came from coming back from war and telling your story to community. So this is actually nothing new. We’re just coming back to it. When the words are just too much to say, you’ve got to sing it. You’ve got to sing it, together.”

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