Theater, opera, and rock collide in a film based-on-interviews with veterans of five wars. Soldier Songs boldly examines the impact of trauma, the exploitation of innocence, and the difficulty of expressing war’s painful truths.
By now, you know that the always-innovative operations of David B. Devan’s Opera Philadelphia company have been in full swing, throughout Covid’s 2020 and 2021, with its virtual Opera Philadelphia Channel. A YouTube-d, Netflix-like collection of specially designed and safely staged events both meant for this city’s grand halls, such as Tyshawn Sorey’s Cycles of My Being. As well as its off-the-cuff studio sessions like Lawrence Brownlee and Friends. Little, however, can prepare you for Soldier Songs. Composer and librettist David T. Little’s theatrical mix of opera and rock. Not to be confused with a Who-like rock opera. Directed by, and starring, baritone vocalist Johnathan McCullough.
Airing Friday, January 22 at 8:00 p.m., Little’s story and lyrics are based on interviews with veterans of five different wars and five different eras. “Mostly men who served in my family,” he told me. A study of how boys turn to men. How innocence is forged into pangs of guilt. And looks at how the horror and trauma of battle, literally and figuratively, changes all.
Both Little and McCullough have spent time, in Philly, and in residence with Opera Philadelphia. Little as Composer-in-Residence. McCullough as an Opera Philadelphia Emerging Artist. And, in creating their made-for-film epic, with producer and screenwriter James Darrah, moved beyond the stage of its initial 2006 production, to the great outdoors.
“We turned a mobile home into our primary setting,” said McCullough of placing a large beat–up, trailer park-worthy vehicle. Complete with old bottles of liquor and stamped out cigs. Flush in the middle of the woodsy, outdoor Brandywine Conservancy. The same site of the American Revolution’s Battle of Brandywine of 1777. All to give Little’s melancholy mood drama an even greater sense of isolation, depth of field and a context no other opera might have. A place where blood was shed and real battle was raged.
Soldier Songs is a bracing, even stunning bit of work, not to be missed. Enjoy the trailer, below.