It's one of the most surreal experiences Houston audiences will ever have a chance to have. Painful, exhilarating, at times far too true for comfort, Glory Denied being performed at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum Hangar right by Hobby Airport is something that's not like anything else.
A large part of that is due to location. As you watch the chamber opera, outside the airport's planes continue to take off and land and their lights shine in through the museum's windows as their engine roar fills the air, competing with the singers and the orchestra on site for attention. During the first showing Monday night it took a while to get away from the feeling that a plane was headed right for us, ready to crash and smash through us all.
Dispossessed by Hurricane Harvey from its Wortham Center Home, the Houston Grand Opera has set up shop on Level 3 of the George R. Brown Convention Center. But the GRB isn't always available and this production, actually part of the opera's HGOco Veterans Songbook outreach efforts, seemed especially appropriate for the air terminal museum given the subject matter.
That subject matter being the story of Jim Thompson, America's longest held prisoner of war, who spent 3,278 days in captivity after being captured by the Viet Cong. He spent months in a bamboo cage, then moved to a cell that was two feet by five feet, and experienced countless interrogations and beatings. He was captured on March 26, 1964 and was not released until Match 16, 1973.
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The story is also about the pregnant wife with small children he left behind. Both are portrayed as their younger and older selves with tenor Mark Thomas and baritone Ben Edquist singing the roles of Younger Thompson and Older Thompson respectively. Sopranos Alexandra Smith and Kerriann Otano sang the Younger and Older Alyce roles respectively.
This was the first opera for composer Tom Cipullo who was inspired by an oral biography by Tom Philpott.
Glory Denied has been produced by several other opera companies across the United States.
It's probably safe to say, though, this was the first time in an airport hangar with memorabilia of past airflights all about. It won't always be comfortable to sit through, but it is memorable beyond belief.
The final performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 9, 2017. 1940 Air Terminal Museum Hangar at Hobby Airport, 8325 Travelair Street. For information, please visit houstongrandopera.com. $40 or buy a ticket at half price ($20) to allow a veteran to attend.