Reflections on A Fleeting Animal, the Nielsen-Budbill Vermont Opera by Linda Henzel

This is the ninth in an ongoing series of blog posts by the people behind the return of A Fleeting Animal in September, 2015.

Being an opera ballet performer and aficionado during my youth, I was intrigued by the opportunity to join the committee helping to produce A Fleeting Animal. I saw the original Judevine play in Hardwick, as well as the more recent one by Lost Nation Theater. This had me wondering how David Budbill’s libretto could be transformed into operatic format by composer Erik Nielsen.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed when I saw a video of the first production and am looking forward to the new live productions in September 2015 at various venues in northern Vermont. The opening scene is riveting, the variety of musical styles provides a “tour” of the seasons of the year, and the libretto kept me spellbound. Antoine singing his lines operatically works for me. The score covers blues, jazz, fiddle tunes, and more contemporary sections, some reminiscent of Britten and Menotti. The staging includes a virtual Greek chorus, providing yet another dimension.

A critical component of the experience of this work is how it shakes me from the sheltered state so many of us enjoy. Like others, I am “comfortably numb,” quoting Pink Floyd, and enjoying life in a country free of the scourge of war—or so it might appear. I can’t imagine what it would be like to serve on a battlefield, whether it be in a jungle, the mountains, desert, or a town or city. But I see some of the effects war has on people who have been there–from my dad being injured at the Battle of the Bulge and reluctant to talk about it, to friends who must face Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), brain injuries, and loss of limbs on an ongoing basis. The lasting emotional effects of wartime are palpable in this opera.

The production will also spur additional activities to raise awareness of PTSD throughout northern Vermont and especially in the performance communities of Barre, Hardwick, and Randolph. We’re planning some art exhibits. Discussion groups will be formed after certain performances to give people an opportunity to share and talk through their experiences. The hope is that communities will support the veterans in their midst through existing programs and even find some new ways to do so.

Since the opera is based on characters from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, it’s even more personal to us who live here. We witness the love between a recently returned war veteran and a young single mother. We see how coping with tragedy is different for each person. We learn about ourselves and how we can help others. We can appreciate the humor, courage, and spiritual message of this work. It is inspiring to me and hope you will be inspired, too, when you experience it.

Back to the A Fleeting Animal.