News / Arts & Entertainment

New Opera Immortalizes Tragedy of Chinese-American Soldier

New Opera Immortalizes Tragedy of Chinese-American Soldieri
X
Zlatica Hoke
June 05, 2014 9:57 PM
In October of 2011, a Chinese-American soldier serving in Afghanistan was found shot dead in an apparent suicide after weeks of abuse by his fellow servicemen. An investigation showed that 19-year-old Danny Chen had been the subject of racial slurs and abusive treatment, including excessive guard duty and torturous exercises, accompanied by beating and taunting by other soldiers. The tragedy of the young man is the subject of a new opera titled An American Soldier Zlatica Hoke attended a rehearsal and has this preview.
Zlatica Hoke
In October of 2011, a Chinese-American soldier serving in Afghanistan was found shot dead in an apparent suicide after weeks of abuse by his fellow servicemen.  An investigation showed that 19-year-old Danny Chen had been the subject of racial slurs and abusive treatment, including excessive guard duty and torturous exercises, accompanied by beating and taunting by other soldiers. The tragedy of the young man is the subject of a new opera titled An American Soldier, which premiers in Washington, D.C. on June 13.

Cast members rehearse a scene in which fellow soldiers force Danny Chen to drink excessive amounts of water before an arduous exercise.

New York-based tenor Andrew Stenson portrays the tormented soldier.  He says he sees Chen as an ordinary inexperienced young man.  

"I am trying to reserve any judgments and just - the fact of the matter is  - it's a young kid in a terrible, uncomfortable situation," he said.

Stenson says he is drawing from the memories of his own youth when he was taunted about his Asian appearance.  He says he continues to face racial profiling even in large, ethnically diverse cities like New York.

"When I was leaving my apartment to come here, one of the ladies in my apartment [building] thought I was a delivery boy and asked if I had anything for her," Stenson said.

The Washington National Opera commissioned Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo to create an hour-long work based on a contemporary American story.  He decided to use Chen's tragedy to explore challenges faced by many immigrants and their families in the United States.

"From the perspective of Danny - when he grew up in Chinatown in New York - what are the challenges he faces and why he decided to join the Army," said Ruo.
 
Chen's parents speak very little English.  After high school, the teenager was offered a scholarship for college, but he decided to join the Army instead.

"He wanted to be 100 percent American, and this is something not every American child, or teenage boy, or even girl would experience," said Ruo.

The libretto is based on court-martial testimonies of Chen's fellow soldiers.  The central setting is a military courtroom at Fort Bragg, Texas.  As the soldiers testify, there are flashbacks of the events that led to Chen's death in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  
Opera director David Paul says the courtroom set is gradually dismantled until it hits a wall of graffiti typically found in war zones.

"One of the things we want to show in the piece is how American justice fails this man and essentially falls apart and we are trying to get at the bottom of why, but as the piece progresses, it - American justice - fails us and so one of the things we are showing is that this courtroom as foundation of the story essentially disintegrates," he said.

Creators of An American Soldier say they hope the opera will contribute to a closer scrutiny of a dark undercurrent in the U.S. military culture, and society in general.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”