About The Opera
Composed by Tobin Stokes
Libretto by Heather Raffo
Story Consultant Christian Ellis
The first opera composed about the Iraq war experience is inspired by the life and work of US Marine, Christian Ellis, Fallujah follows mothers and sons as they search for hope and healing in the aftermath of a war that changed their relationships forever.The opera provides a glimpse inside real hearts and minds before and after one of the Iraq War’s biggest battles. The result is an inspiring, mind-opening, and moving opera by Canadian composer, Tobin Stokes and award-winning Iraqi American playwright, Heather Raffo.
VA Discount code: VETS20
The opera's characters were inspired by people US Marine Christian Ellis encountered, including fallen comrades. In 2004, Christian Ellis was a young US Marine fighting in the Iraq War. He suffered a broken back when his platoon was ambushed, and was one of the few survivors. When eventually he returned home he found himself battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fallujah offers a rare, operatic glimpse into the mind of a vet struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The opera Fallujah began with a generous grant from Charles Annenberg Weingarten and his organization Explore.Org to City Opera Vancouver. Charles tasked City Opera Vancouver with creating a contemporary opera inspired by the life and work of USMC Sergeant Christian Ellis. Ellis served with the Marines in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. Award-winning Iraqi-American playwright and Librettist Heather Raffo met Ellis in the winter of 2011. After extensive interviews began the process with composer Tobin Stokes of translating elements of Ellis's wartime experience into the opera Fallujah. The opera had four workshops at City Opera Vancouver. The final workshop in 2012 was filmed as part of the legacy of Explore.Org to use the web to create a portal into the soul of humanity and inspire life-long learning. Over the last four years the opera has had developmental workshops at the Kennedy Center, Georgetown University, Arena Stage, Noor Theater (NYC), The Culture Project (NYC), and was written in part at the McCarter Theater's Sallie B. Goodman Artist Residency. LBO's production presents the world premiere.
About Tobin Stokes
Former rock drummer, jazz pianist, and street performer (vibraphone) Tobin Stokes spent a few years of traveling and performing before settling into freelance composing. He's written music for the 2010 Olympic Games and the XV Commonwealth Games, and has been composer in residence with the Victoria Symphony (Canada), the International Choral Kathaumixw Festival (Canada), the Urban Youth Choir Festival (Sweden), and the Pacific Region International Music Academy (Canada). His choir music is published in the U.S. and Canada and has been performed around the world. He has scored various films for BBC, Eden Channel, CBC, and ABC, and more.
Choral and orchestral writing, along with scoring ballet, and extensive theatre collaborations as performer, music director, sound designer, arranger and composer, have all led to a passion for creating opera. He has been commissioned by the Annenberg Foundation/Explore.Org and City Opera Vancouver, and is involved in a number of new opera and music theatre projects, some as composer, and others as composer/librettist. His chamber opera Pauline, a collaboration with author Margaret Atwood, premiered in 2014 in Vancouver, Canada. Current opera commissions include Rattenbury (music and libretto) about the true story of the murder of an architect in the 1930s, and Waterfront (music and libretto) set on a shuttle on its way to a colony on Mars.
An actor and playwright, Heather is the recipient of a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Special Commendation and the Marian Seldes-Garson Kanin Fellowship for 9 Parts of Desire. Most recently, she received a 2005 Lucille Lortel award for Best Solo show, as well as an Outer Critics Circle Nomination and a Drama League nomination for Outstanding Performance. Raffo first performed 9 Parts of Desire in August 2003 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. It later moved to the Bush Theatre in London's Off-West End, where critics hailed it as one of the five best plays in London in late 2003. 9 Parts of Desire was then developed and performed as a reading at The Public Theatre as part of their New Work Now festival in spring 2004. Its New York premiere took place in the fall of 2004 at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater, where the show ran for nine sold-out months. In 2005, the play began touring the U.S. at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Following are new productions at Berkeley Rep, Seattle Rep, The Wilma Theatre, and Arena Stage in D.C., as well as international productions. Heather's recent acting credits include: The feature film Vino Veritas, dir. Sarah Knight; In Darfur (world premiere The Public Theater, Delacourt); Nerjas El Saffar, New York premiere Palace of the End (Drama League Nomination), Epic Theater Center; Seven, Skirball Center, London's House of Lords, Aspen Ideas Festival; Sarah Woodruff, world premiere The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fulton Opera House. Off-Broadway: Over The River and Through the Woods, Off Broadway/National Tour of Macbeth (Lady Macbeth), The Merry Wives of Windsor (Mistress Page) and The Rivals all with The Acting Company. Regional: As You like It, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth at the Old Globe Theater San Diego. She received her BA from the University of Michigan, her MFA from the University of San Diego and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Originally from Michigan, Raffo divides her time between New York and Los Angeles. Her father is from Iraq and her mother is American.
Christian Ellis - story consultant
Mr. Ellis has been trained in classical and jazz music since the age of 10, focusing on voice and trumpet. At the age of 19, he decided he wanted a new challenge in life and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, with guidance and support from his mother. Upon entry into the Marines, Mr. Ellis selected the Military Occupational Specialty (Machine Gunner) program where he gained expertise in all available infantry machine--guns, their use and employment assisting in military operations and in missions conducted in the Iraqi theater. During his first tour in Iraq, Mr. Ellis' unit was directly responsible for the majority of Area of Operations for the city of Al Fallujah. This consisted of counter-mortar missions, cordon-and-searches for known or suspected terrorists and insurgents, escorting U.S. military personnel and their equipment, re-establishing diplomatic relations between local sheiks and the U.S. Government, and providing humanitarian aid when possible. Al Fallujah was Mr. Ellis' first exposure to the hard and daily combat that resulted in the experiences of life, death, and survival addressed in this opera. He suffered a broken back when his platoon was ambushed, and was one of the few survivors. When eventually he returned home he found himself battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Upon leaving the Marines, Mr. Ellis had achieved the rank of sergeant. Mr. Ellis wishes to acknowledge and thank Sun Valley Adaptive Sports, The Annenberg Foundation, Explore.Org, The Semper Fi Foundation and City Opera Vancouver.
The opera is helping Christian come to terms with the trauma he experiences as a result of the Iraq conflict. "But going through this opera has allowed me to have my guilt, or shame or demons, presented to me in a way that music can help heal. It was something no amount of medicine could help with. I'm fixing things which I didn't think I needed to fix. But I do." Read More
The first opera about the Iraq war experience. The opera spans a 72-hour holding period in a veterans’ hospital following US Marine Philip Houston’s third suicide attempt. His mother waits to see him outside his hospital room, but Philip has not been able to face her since he returned from war. The loyal Marines he served with stand vigilant, more equipped to care for his particular demons than she. In these 72 hours, Philip’s battle is as vivid and deadly as the war in which he fought. In the opening scene Wissam, a young Iraqi boy, enters his hospital room and, in a befriending gesture, writes his name on Philip’s hand. Suddenly one of Philip’s most humanizing memories becomes the catalyst through which he remembers how to live. Philip’s hours in the hospital force him to face both past and present. Scenes fly back and forth to Fallujah, providing a rare glimpse inside real hearts and minds before one of the biggest battles of the Iraq War.
On the eve of the Battle of Fallujah, assuming heavy losses ahead, we see Philip and his fellow marines make final calls home to their families to say goodbye, without hinting at the horror to come. Nearby, Wissam and his mother must abandon their centuries-old family home. The act finally joins these worlds, these mothers, these sons, with each lingering “goodbye” reminding us just how much each character has to lose.
American-Armenian Soprano Ani Maldjian has been described as “Sensational, radiant, elegant, commanding, brilliant, fresh and strong… finding talent like Maldjian is no easy feat.” – The Los Angeles Times Ms. Maldjian has performed over 35 major roles with companies such as Long Beach Opera, Seattle Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Atlanta Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, and Opera Theatre Ireland. Past roles with LBO include the title roles in Les Mamelles de Tiresias and The Cunning Little Vixen, along with Madame Mao in Nixon in China, Nuria in Ainadamar, Dirce in Medea, and Suzanne in Therese Raquin. She is best known for her critically acclaimed portrayal of Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank, which brought her success all over the US, UK, Europe and Republic of Ireland. She was the First Place Winner of the Western Region Metropolitan Opera Competition in 2005. www.animaldjian.com
Arnold Livingston Geis
Arnold Livingston Geis, tenor, graduated in May 2014 with an MM in vocal arts from USC and immediately began working as a full time professional singer making a career singing in films, television, concert, and on the opera stage. Since graduating, Geis has debuted at the Walt Disney Concert Hall under the direction of Grant Gershon, Michael Tilson-Thomas, and Gustavo Dudamel. In 2015, Arnold made his mainstage debut with LA Opera under the baton of Placido Domingo and is further engaged to sing Parpignol in La bohéme under the baton of James Conlon and Gustavo Dudamel in May-June, 2016.
In March of 2016, Tenor Jonathan Lacayo will be making his American debut with Long Beach Opera as Wissam in the World Premiere of Heather Raffo & Tobin Stokes’ Fallujah, an opera inspired by the story of U.S. Marine Christian Ellis in the Iraq War. Last October Jonathan made his international debut with Opera de Tijuana in Gershwin’s Blue Monday, as the lead role Joe. During the summer, Jonathan took on the roles of Don Jose in Bizet’s Carmen and Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with Opera of the Rockies in Colorado. Jonathan has also participated in many productions with Point Loma Opera Theatre including the roles of Prince Charming in Massenet’s Cendrillon, Parpignol in Puccini’s La Boheme, Beppe in Donizetti’s Rita, Giuseppe in Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, Aeneas in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and covered the role of Camille in Lehar’s Die Lustige Witwe.
Kristof Van Grysperre
Kristof Van Grysperre, a native of Belgium, most recently conducted for LBO Candide, Hydrogen Jukebox, An American Soldier’s Tale/Fiddler’s Tale and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. Hailed by the Orange County Register as “gifted and stylistically impeccable” and as “a conductor with pugilistic power and sensitivity” he has an international career as conductor, pianist, chamber musician and vocal coach. With a repertoire of over fifty operas, Van Grysperre conducted performances for Opera Pacific, Baltimore Opera Studio, Intimate Opera Company, SongFest and USC Opera. He has collaborated with leading instrumentalists and singers, such as Angela Meade, Maria Newman, Philip Webb and Susan Mohini Kane, and is the artistic director of Angels Vocal Art. www.vangrysperre.com
Dan Weingarten has designed Hydrogen Jukebox, Marilyn, Macbeth, The Paper Nautilus, Ainadamar, Maria de Buenos Aires, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (2011), Akhnaten, Orpheus and Euridice, Nixon in China, Good Soldier Schweik, Cunning Little Vixen, Winterreise, Anne Frank, and Macbeth for Long Beach Opera. He has designed numerous other plays, musicals, operas, and ballets around the country. He is the recipient of the LA Drama Critic's Circle Angstrom Award, the LA Weekly Award, the Garland Award, and the Dramalogue Award. He is also on the faculty at California State University Northridge.
LaMarcus made his Kennedy Center debut singing the leading role of USMC Philip in a staged reading of the new opera Fallujah by Tobin Stokes & Heather Raffo. He was hailed for a performance that was “sensitive and vulnerable...His vocal command will have you hanging onto every note.” LaMarcus has appeared in leading operatic roles from Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus to Don Giovanni and Il Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Alidoro in Cenerentola, soloist with Master Yao’s chorus in The Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai, and Raimondo in Lucia Di Lammermoor. LaMarcus has performed at Lincoln Center alongside Wynton Marsalis and was a featured recording artist on the jazz album, The Music Always Roumd Me by Gary Dial and Dick Oatts. A graduate from Manhattan School of Music, LaMarcus took First Place in the 2012 Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition at Carnegie Hall.
Art Designer / Consultant
Born and raised in Connecticut with a love for old school hip hop and art! I joined the Marine Corps on July 13, 2003 knowing the war on terror was going on in Iraq. Michael was an Anti Tank Assaultman 0351 in 3rd Battalion 1st Marines. 3 Deployments to Iraq. Finished Active Duty April 20, 2008.
With LBO: Marilyn (Death of Klinghoffer), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth - also for Chicago Opera Theater), Madeline (Fall of the House of Usher - also for COT), Mrs. P (The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat), Margarita (Ainadamar), Medea (Medea), Mrs. Williamson (The Difficulty of Crossing a Field), Pat Nixon (Nixon in China), Brünnhilde (Siegfried, Götterdämmerung). Premiered works by Philip Glass, Rinde Eckert, Michel LeGrand, Henry Mollicone, Craig Bohmler... Other Opera companies: San Francisco, Arizona, Connecticut, Carnegie Hall, Pittsburgh, Verona, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Spoleto, Florence… Theater companies: Old Globe, Denver Center, San Jose Rep… Recordings: The Tender Land (Koch), Coyote Tales (Newport Classics).
Tenor Todd Strange is excited to return to LBO as Taylor in Fallujah. Recent LBO appearances include the title role in Candide and the tenor in Hydrogen Jukebox. He has been praised as having a “glorious voice” that “is strong and clear and his acting is on point.” Feeling comfortable in both leading man or character roles, Todd sings a variety of different repertoire. Career highlights include Remendado, Carmen (Arizona Opera), Tobias, Sweeney Todd (Arizona Opera), Basilio/Curzio, OSB, Title Role, Lehar’s The Czarevitch (Ohio Light Opera), The Captiain, Simon Boccanegra (LA Opera), Almaviva, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Bakersfield Symphony).
Zeffin Quinn Hollis
Zeffin Quinn Hollis headed the Live International broadcasts of the Ward opera rendition of Miller’s The Crucible & Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, both for MezzoTV. No stranger to world premieres, Hollis has taken part in many inaugural productions for composers like Jake Heggie, Thomas Pasatieri, & Tarik O’Regan. He has been heard at Dallas Opera, Santa Fe Opera, New York City Opera, Palm Beach Opera, New Orleans Opera, Pécs & Szeged National Theaters Hungary, Lviv National Theatre Ukraine, this is his fourth production with Long Beach Opera. Recent roles include Sweeney Todd, Falstaff, & Scarpia. Zeffin's performance is in tribute to his brother's service: James Edward Elliott (Seargent, USMC). Find more at zeffin.com!
Critically-acclaimed singer, Gregorio González, began his operatic career in 2002 after being hired as a resident artist by Placido Domingo at the Los Angeles Opera. Since then, Gregorio has sung extensively throughout the United States, parts of Latin-America and Europe. He has sung at LAO in more than a dozen productions including appearances in two Placido Domingo and Friends Gala Concerts. Gregorio has sung at venues of international renown such as Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, De Nederlandse Opera, Theater an der Wien, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Connecticut Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, San Diego Opera, and The Ojai International Festival, to name a few. In the last three years, Gregorio has created roles in 4 new operas. His last collaboration with LBO was his portrayal of El Payador in the acclaimed production of Maria de Buenos Aires. gregoriogonzalez.com
Hana S. Kim
Recent Design Credits; Projection for Dogeaters directed by Loretta Greco at Magic Theatre in San Francisco, Projection for Subliminal with Theater Movement Bazzar at Getty Villa, Projection for I am My Own Wife directed by Amy Corcoran with Two Turns Theater Company, Video installation project Emille at Baryshnikov Arts Center, Set and Projection for Chinglish directed by Jeff Liu at East West Players, and Magic Flute directed by LeRoy Villanueva at CSULB Opera. Film Credit: Assistant Art Director on The Great Wall, directed by Zhang Yi Mou. Other Affiliates: Recipient of Princess Grace Award in Theater Design, Member of USA Local 829 hananow.com.
Jason Switzer recently performed in Salome with Utah Opera, Les Contes d'Hoffmann with Connecticut Lyric Opera, La Cenerentola with Lyrique en Mer, and Hänsel und Gretel with Opera Memphis. Eager to explore contemporary works, he has been heard in The Death of Klinghoffer (Adams) and Tell-Tale Heart/Van Gogh (Copeland/Gordon) with Long Beach Opera as well as world premieres of The Always Present Present (Westergaard), Danse Russe (Moravec), and Slaying the Dragon (Ching). Jason is a graduate of CSU Long Beach where he studied with Marvellee Cariaga.
Art Designer / Consultant
Jon Harguindeguy is an United States Navy Veteran who served with VAQ-132 in Operation Iraq Freedom in Al Asad, Iraq. He is also an artist who has worked mainly in the Whittier and Los Angeles area. Taking inspiration from local graffiti and the surrounding tattoo culture from his days in the Navy, Jon developed his own style of illustration and painting. Mainly working with ink and watercolor, he is also known for his work with spray paint and acrylics.Using his talents and devotion to his community, Jon is currently the Veteran Liaison for Awaken Arts, a nonprofit that reaches out to both veterans and at-risk youth in the Long Beach area.