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'Glory Denied': Painted Sky Opera to present Oklahoma premiere of real-life Vietnam War saga

Saira Frank and Andre Chiang star as Col. Jim Thompson and his wife Alyce in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography]
Saira Frank and Andre Chiang star as Col. Jim Thompson and his wife Alyce in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography]

In the second act of Tom Cipullo’s acclaimed opera “Glory Denied," Andre Chiang sings of "Teflon cookware, men with long hair, stay-pressed shirts, mini skirts" and all the changes that happen when a man's life is put on hold for nine long years.

A Louisiana-based baritone, Chiang is returning to Oklahoma City to star in the Painted Sky Opera's Oklahoma premiere production of "Glory Denied," which delves into the real-life story of Col. Jim Thompson, who became the longest-held prisoner of war in U.S. history during the Vietnam War.

"He really experienced all sorts of horrors: malnutrition, torture. I believe he was in solitary; he was put in a cage for four months. ... The story just paints this picture of all the horrors that he dealt with and then the horrors coming home and not realizing the world would be completely different than when he left," said Chiang, who previously appeared in Painted Sky's productions of "Three Decembers" and "Trouble in Tahiti."

"He comes back to a country that he feels in a lot of ways is not supporting him, doesn't really value what he gave and what he went through. It's a fascinating sort of character study."

Painted Sky Opera will perform "Glory Denied" Friday, Feb. 2 and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center's Freede Little Theatre.

“We’re really living in a golden age of American opera right now," said Rob Glaubitz, Painted Sky co-founder and artistic director. "This is a modern masterpiece. The best works have universal themes. And this is a universal theme, that when men and women go away to fight, there is a price they pay, a sacrifice that they make.”

Tragic story

In early 1964, Army Special Forces Capt. Floyd "Jim" Thompson was sent to Vietnam for a six-month tour. On March 26, 1964, the surveillance plane he was co-piloting was shot down by small arms fire about 12 miles west of his Special Forces camp at Khe Sanh in the Republic of South Vietnam. Thompson suffered a broken back and was quickly captured by the Viet Cong.

He was a prisoner of war, first in the hands of the Viet Cong and later in Hanoi prison system, until he was released in March 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming.

"It's based on an event that a lot of people still remember. ... These choices that these characters make and the way they respond to the events in their lives are very rooted in reality and rooted in a way that's very accessible," Chiang said.

Based on journalist Tom Philpott’s book "Glory Denied," Cipullo’s 2007 chamber opera features just four performers — Chiang portrays the older version of Thompson and Willie Casper plays Thompson when he was younger, while Saira Frank and Mary McDowell appear as the older and younger versions, respectively, of Thompson's wife, Alyce — singing with a 15-piece orchestra.

Already the mother of three young daughters, Alyce Thompson went into labor with the couple's son when an Army officer visited her home to tell her that her husband had gone missing. Overwhelmed and alone, Alyce eventually began a relationship with another man, and she and her children moved in with him. When Thompson returned home, the couple tried to reconcile.

"She definitely was under a lot of stress and trauma and judgment from those around her, even within her family," said Frank, a Madison, Wisconsin-based soprano who previously appeared in Painted Sky's production of "Tosca." "We know from the book that she made efforts to be independent and kind of was shot down every time she tried. She tried to buy a house on her own. She tried to get a job so that she could support her family without needing to wait for Jim's paychecks, and none of those things panned out. ... I think after trying for a little while ... you just kind of say, 'Well, I'm done with this. I'm going to do the thing that everyone expects me to do and be with a man and start to build a new life.'"

Topical tale

Although the show may be triggering to some who have served in the military, Painted Sky is inviting veterans to attend the 7:30 p.m. Wednesday dress rehearsal for free.

"It's an interesting show because it's about war, but it doesn't take a very political view on it. ... It doesn't say we were wrong to be in Vietnam; it doesn't say we were right to be in Vietnam," said Glaubitz, who is directing.

"The only message it's trying to say is, 'These are issues; we need to be aware of them.' ... That awareness of what happens to veterans when they go away to war, I think is something that we don't always have a clear view of — and not only happens to veterans, but the people who live with veterans."

He said Jessica Slusarchuk, a therapist who works with veterans and is married to one, will give a pre-curtain talk one hour before each show.

"This is about as topical and as relevant today as you can get, I think, in theater. It's talking about the issues people are having right now that are difficult issues to talk about — and I think that's definitely what theater is for. In general, that's what opera's always been about," Glaubitz said.

ON STAGE

Painted Sky Opera's "Glory Denied"

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Feb. 7 and 2 p.m. Feb. 2.

Where: Civic Center’s Freede Little Theatre, 201 N Walker.

Tickets and information: www.paintedskyopera.org.

Related Photos
<strong>Andre Chiang stars as Col. Jim Thompson in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center.  [Mutz Photography]</strong>

Andre Chiang stars as Col. Jim Thompson in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9268a6367aeca54a76c219c3ee00e80c.jpg" alt="Photo - Andre Chiang stars as Col. Jim Thompson in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] " title=" Andre Chiang stars as Col. Jim Thompson in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] "><figcaption> Andre Chiang stars as Col. Jim Thompson in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-47d47290998c062fd63ec532493147dc.jpg" alt="Photo - Saira Frank, Andre Chiang and Mary McDowell star in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] " title=" Saira Frank, Andre Chiang and Mary McDowell star in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] "><figcaption> Saira Frank, Andre Chiang and Mary McDowell star in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9b6748d77f65a771eb256253b8250df9.jpg" alt="Photo - Saira Frank and Andre Chiang star as Col. Jim Thompson and his wife Alyce in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] " title=" Saira Frank and Andre Chiang star as Col. Jim Thompson and his wife Alyce in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] "><figcaption> Saira Frank and Andre Chiang star as Col. Jim Thompson and his wife Alyce in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Glory Denied" on Jan. 31, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7 at the Civic Center. [Mutz Photography] </figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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