“Veteran Journeys” is based on true stories from interviews of Veterans and family members as well as Dr. Kenneth Wells’ family members. Veteran and Providers of services for Veterans provided input into the opera’s libretto to reflect their experiences. Music and Libretto by Kenneth B. Wells; Conducted by Matthew Miles; Directed by Megan Cooper.
The opera development was supported by a Veterans in the Arts grant from the California Arts Council and the live performance is supported by a grant from the Tilley Family Foundation; and the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
“Veteran Journeys” opera is the winner of the Awareness Film Festival Special Jury Courage Award for portraying courage of Veterans and those who serve them.
“Veteran Journeys Opera” film, is the winner of the “Docs Without Borders” International Film Festival awards in the category of Docu-drama Feature, Social Issues: a) Excellence in Editing (sub-category); and b) Outstanding Excellence: Original Score (sub-category).
If you would like to make a donation to the UCLA Health Services & Society Arts Program, visit the following link and in the “Comments” section, note “HEArts” Or “Veteran Journeys”: https://giving.ucla.edu/Standard/NetDonate.aspx?SiteNum=1297
Creative Team/Production Team
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.
Megan Cooper (Director): Megan Cooper is a recent transplant to Los Angeles. Prior to her move, she worked with the opera program at CSU, Chico where she directed The Magic Flute and Ned Rorem’s Our Town. She also directed the fully sold-out, award-winning play Dorothea Puente Tells All! Megan spent many years in New York City where she founded The Salon, in order to expose audiences to disciplines, points of view, and forms of expression to which they might not otherwise have access. Her work has been seen at La Mama, The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival and with companies such as Peculiar Works Project and Ashes Company, regionally and in many festivals. She is a company member of Victor Herbert Renaissance Project, The Shaw Project and Killington Shakespeare Retreat. Megan is a proud member of AEA, SAG/AFTRA and an associate member of SDC. She is currently putting together her first Los Angeles Salon and looking to get the Dorothea Puente play produced in LA.
Conductor: Matthew Miles
Production Managers: Judy Sharinger, Christina Morris-De Los Reyes, Jeremy Beavers
Staff: Mariam Nazinyan, Catherine Wilkerson, Luis Henao (School of Music), Ernie Vazquez (Semel Institute)
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 Chamberlin is a soprano, producing artist and interpreter of new works. She recently was Lucy in the award-winning opera film, Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone with husband, tenor Nathan Granner. The couple created and starred in Sing Out Loud, a web series for LA Opera Connects produced from their home during 2020. She portrayed Marilyn Monroe in the US Premiere of Marilyn Forever at Long Beach Opera, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Cunegonde in Candide, and Hazel George in the US premiere of The Perfect American by Philip Glass. She has appeared with LA Opera, Chicago Opera Theatre, SF Opera, and Pasadena Symphony and Pops, with her professional debut in Esa Pekka Salonen’s Wing on Wing with the LA Phil in 2004. She is also a voice teacher and lecturer.
Ariel Pisturino (Navy/VA social worker): Ariel Pisturino has a master’s degree from USC Thorton School of Music; and has sung with Long Beach Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Chamber Opera of LA, and other companies, and was in the film production of Veteran Journeys Opera.
Cedric Berry (Vietnam Veteran 2): Cedric Berry has performed with LA Opera, The Industry Opera, Long Beach Opera, Svonlinna Opera Festival of Finland, Bonlieurs Bleues Festival of France and Ravinia Music Festival, among others. He has appeared with the LA Philharmonic, Pacific Symphony, and others. He received first plan in the Metropolitan Opera Western Region Competition and played the role of Yusef in the world premiere of the Central Park Five Opera.
Todd Strange (VA Psychiatrist): Todd Strange 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.
Sopranos: Christina Bristow, Carol Yamanoha, Sarah Salazar, Katherine McClain
Altos: Aleta Braxton, Tyler Graves, Rima Snyder, Francie Viggiani
Tenors: Marcus Desir, Randall Garrou, Dave Ritchie, Michael Harshberger
Bass: Scott Levin, Dylan Gentile, Raymond McLeod, Paul Sobosky, Tom Ahern, Gabriel Edwards
Piano: Zach DeChance
Percussion: Joseph Muskat
Violin: Esther Kim, MD
Viola: Ben Bartelt
Cello: Mark Bassett
Flute: Rachel Mellis
Bassoon: Maciel Flis
The composer acknowledges individuals who provided feedback on instrumental parts: Sumner Arano, Mark Bassett, Virgina Figueiredo, Tom Gossard, Esther Kim, Rachel Mills, Ben Phelps, and Morgan O’Shaughnessey.
Veteran and Provider Stakeholders: Veterans and providers gave input into the libretto.
Funding: The opera development was supported by a Veterans in the Arts grant from the California Arts Council and the live performance is supported by a grant from the Tilley Family Foundation; and the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. The evaluation uses the Arts Impact Measurement System (AIMS) from the NEA Research Lab at UCLA, supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts (Award: 1862904-38-C-20), Robert Bilder PhD, PI.
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.