“Veteran Journeys” had its world premiere (virtually) on Thursday, June 3, 2021 which also included an evaluation of audience response sponsored by UCLA/RAND. The opera was supported by the California Arts Council and based on true stories from interviews of Veterans and family members as well as Dr. Kenneth Wells’ family members. Featuring Jamie Chamberlin, Bernardo Bermudez, Jennifer Wallace, Patrick Blackwell, and Todd Strange. Music and Libretto by Kenneth Wells.
The opera and its recording was supported by a Veterans in the Arts grant from the California Arts Council. Veteran and Providers of services for Veterans provided input into the opera’s libretto to reflect their experiences.
Bernardo Bermudez (Viet Nam Veteran 1): Venezuelan American Bernardo Bermudez, started his musical education at The Conservatory of Music Juan Manuel Olivares, in Caracas Venezuela. In the United States he has performed with companies including San Diego Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Long Beach Opera, The San Diego Symphony, Opera North, Union Avenue Opera, West Bay Opera, Livermore Valley Opera and The Music Academy of the West. He has performed roles both as a baritone such as Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and as a tenor such as Don Jose in Carmen. He participated as a voice fellow at The Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara California, under direction of Marilyn Horne. He received 1st place in NATS LA singing competition, in AEIOU, 39th Annual Opera Scholarship and Competition, and other awards including the Music Academy of the West Alumni Enterprise award in 2019. He is co-founder of Opera4Kids a non-profit, to use music performance to educate youth about theatre and music.
Jamie Chamberlin (Wife of Veteran 1): Jamie holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Music Degrees from UCLA and received awards including The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, First Prize in the Performing Arts Scholarship Foundation among others. Ms. Chamberlin made her debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, singing in EsaPekka Salonenʼs Wing on Wing and her solo debut singing the High Priestess in Aida and the Cretan Woman in Idomeneo. She created the role of Elyn Saks in Wellsʼ The Center Cannot Hold. She has appeared with the Pasadena Symphony, Louisville Orchestra, Long Beach Opera and Pacific Opera Project.
Jennifer Wallace (Navy/VA social worker): Jennifer has performed with the LA Opera Chorus since its inaugural production of Otello in 1986, appearing in over 100 productions. She played Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw with Pacific Opera Project, the title role in Massenet’s Thérèse, the premieres of Wells’ The First Lady (Eleanor Roosevelt) and The Center Cannot Hold (Mrs. Saks), and the role of the Old Lady in Candide in the inaugural production of Pasadena Opera.
Patrick Blackwell (Viet Nam Veteran 2): Patrick studied with Enrico DiGuiseppe at the Juilliard School. Early on he performed with Santa Fe Opera, Houston Opera Studio, Merola Opera Program, Opera Music Theatre International and Aspen Opera Theatre. He made his LA Opera debut in 2014 as Ratcliffe in Billy Budd and appeared in The Ghosts of Versailles, Madama Butterfly, Akhnaten, Salome, Noah’s Flood and Satyagraha. He performed Porgy in Porgy and Bess in Bari, Italy; and in the Carnegie Hall premiere of Earnestine Robinson’s Crucifixion.
Todd Strange (VA Psychiatrist): Todd is a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Opera, and soloist in opera companies and symphonies across the United States and abroad. He played Sextus in The Industry/LA Philharmonic’s production/recording of Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar. He has sung on film scores including the Blockbuster, “Sing!” and as member of the LA Master Chorale for Star Wars/The Last Jedi, and Star Wars/Rogue One, Frozen, Minions, and Despicable Me 3.
Christina Bristow, Ariel Pisturino, Sae Takada, Courtney Taylor
Aleta Braxton, Ariel Pisturino
Randall Garrou, Timothy Gonzales, Ian Martyn, Dave Ritchie
Scott Levin, Leo Martyn, Paul Sobosky
Kenneth Wells (Composer, Librettist): Dr. Wells is David Weil Professor, UCLA Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neurosciences and Human Behavior and Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine and Health Policy and Management, Fielding School of Public Health; Affiliated Adjunct Staff at RAND and Staff Psychiatrist at West Los Angeles VA. He directs Semel Institute’s Center for Health Services and Society, which includes the HEArts program, and is co-director of the UCLA/VA Center of Excellence for Veteran Recovery and Resilience. Wells is director of the Mansfield Chamber Singers, and composes vocal works to address stigma of mental illness. “Veteran Journeys” is Wells’ third opera, supported by a California Arts Commission grant for Veterans in the Arts.
Scene 1: The chorus issues a call to hear stories of Veterans and their resilience in recovery. They are joined by 5 individuals (Viet Nam Veteran and his wife; a Navy/VA Social worker; a second Viet Nam Veteran; and a VA psychiatrist).
Scene 2: The VA Social worker tells her story of working for the Navy and providing services to families of pilots who were prisoners of war in Viet Nam, and how she supported their families.
Scene 3: A Viet Nam Veteran reveals challenges from his experience of war, the trauma he experiences, and concerns about keeping his marriage. His concerns are echoed by the chorus.
Scene 4: A women’s therapy group meets at the VA, facilitated by a social worker. The women share excitement at support for each other, of being helped by the group, and others they hope to help, including the wife of the Viet Nam Veteran affected by his war experience.
Scene 5: The same wife of the Veteran expresses her love and commitment to her husband, while remaining concerned about his behavior; yet determined to find a solution.
Scene 6: Another Veteran struggling with homelessness, friend of the first Veteran, expresses concerns about survival. His friend encourages him, as they are joined, to their surprise, by the first Veteran’s wife and social worker. As all express “we are not alone,” the social worker offers to help both Veterans connect with services (housing and therapy) at the VA. All are encouraged by hope.
Scene 7: Veteran 1 and his wife meet with a VA psychiatrist, who explores the Veteran’s trauma and offers approaches to ease symptoms. The Veteran tries his first steps toward managing stress, and all three express commitment to making therapy work. Afterwards, the psychiatrist wonders if he has been true to the vision of his parents, a WW II Veteran and his wife, who helped other Veterans recover by inviting them to live with in their home. He recalls wonder at witnessing their growth and resilience and hopes he can offer the gift of recovery to Veterans now.
Scene 8: After being housed through the VA, the second Veteran and social worker discuss next steps, as transitional housing is ending. He is worried he will miss friends at the VA. The social worker offers to help him continue connections and find housing, and the Veteran feels he has been “thrown him a rope.”
Scene 9: The public celebrates Veteran resilience in recovery, and individuals share their coping strategies.
Scene 10: The first Veteran and his wife are camping. Their relationship is improved, but the wife worries that he will experience trauma when he sees the night and stars. The Veteran reveals that for the first time, he but feels wonder at the beauty of the stars in the night, and their love. Joined by the chorus, all rejoice in resilience in recovery, the beauty beyond the stars.