I am sure many of us have seen the phrase “based on a true story” attached to works of art for the stage and screen. We are drawn to these stories because of their personal and/or topical nature.
In January, the Resident Artists of the Pittsburgh Opera present the Pittsburgh premiere of The Long Walk, the story of Iraq War veteran Brian Castner, an officer in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit. The “long walk” is military jargon for the solo walk a soldier makes when disarming IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), but also refers to the journey Castner had to make when he returned home and was dealing with what he called his “Crazy” – a brain injury and PTSD.
Jeremy Howard Beck, the composer of the opera, employs various instruments like piano, synthesizer and electric guitar as well as objects like plastic hoses. In addition, he uses microtones as part of his musical language, intervals that are smaller than the notes of the Western musical scale. The libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann is nonlinear, jumping back and forth between Castner’s time in Iraq and at home after the war.
If you want to learn more about the opera, you can listen to an online excerpt and peruse the libretto, full score and vocal score as PDF files. Pittsburgh Opera also has video excerpts from their current production on their website.
A story aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday in 2013 when Beck and Fleischmann were developing the opera with American Lyric Theater in New York. In addition, New York Times’ reporter C.J. Chivers wrote a piece after attending a rehearsal leading up to the world premiere of The Long Walk by Opera Saratoga in 2015. Chivers also spoke with Brian Castner during that rehearsal. Finally, you can check out and read Castner’s memoir that inspired the opera: The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows.
The physical and emotional injuries suffered by war veterans are a very real part of the fabric of many American families’ lives. Hopefully this opera will serve as a vehicle to help military families heal and for non-military audiences to better understand what truly happens on and off the field of war.