Review: Huang Ruo’s “An American Soldier” debuts in St. Louis

Posted on: June 21, 2018

“Basing an opera on a recent historical event, especially a story fraught with racism, is risky,” writes Anthony Tommasini in last Wednesday’s (6/13) New York Times. “But ‘An American Soldier,’ having its premiere in an expanded two-act version here at Opera Theater of St. Louis and seen on Saturday, is convincing, driven by [David Henry] Hwang’s rueful libretto and [Huang Ruo’s] arresting music…. The creators explore the complexities of Private [Danny] Chen’s life and death, the tragic tale of a young Chinese-American man who just wanted to prove he was … a ‘real American, an American soldier.’ … Elements of modernist atonality, Asian-inflected styles, jazz and eerie atmospheric noise course through the taut score…. Strange, fractured fanfares, like would-be military marches, keep recurring. But during reflective passages, searching vocal lines are backed by tremulous harmonies and delicate instrumental flecks. Both the subtle colorings and pummeling intensity came through in the compelling performance the conductor Michael Christie drew from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Huang acutely charts emotional undercurrents in his music…. The opera depicts a boot camp ritual called ‘Racial Thursdays.’ … In the opera, as these soldiers mask their barbs with comradely banter, Mr. Huang’s roiling music reveals the deep hatreds at play.”

Posted June 21, 2018