Pittsburgh Opera’s Benjamin Taylor Takes “The Long Walk”

HeaderFor the third offering of its current season, Pittsburgh Opera will present another local premiere of a contemporary work, The Long Walk, beginning Saturday evening, January 20, at the CAPA Theater. With music by composer Jeremy Howard Beck and a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann, the opera is adapted from Brian Castner’s critically acclaimed, autobiographical book of the same title. The opera explores a soldier’s return from Iraq, where he served as an officer in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, and his struggle with “the Crazy” that gnaws at his brain as he tries to re-adapt to family and civilian life. Opera Saratoga premiered the work in the summer of 2015. Castner’s emotional story is said to tell the tale with a “brutal honesty” that carries over to its operatic treatment.

Resident Artist Benjamin Taylor, baritone, will sing the leading role of Brian, and earlier this week shared some thoughts with us about his career and his part in the upcoming production.  It’s always interesting to learn from young singers how they began their pursuit of operatic careers.

“I’ve been enamored with music since I was a child,” Mr. Taylor shared. “I sang in choirs and also played in metal bands throughout middle and high school.  I got into opera when I did a program in Rome for six weeks, and saw Verdi’s Rigoletto for the first time. Rigoletto’s aria ‘Cortigianni vil razza dannata’ moved me so much that I changed my plans of doing choral work to becoming an opera singer.”

Former Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer, and veteran of the Iraq War, Brian Castner (Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Ben Taylor)
Former Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer, and veteran of the Iraq War, Brian Castner (Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Ben Taylor)

His studies and experience to date are quite impressive. He has a Master’s of Music degree from Boston University, where he also earned his Performer’s Certificate from Boston University’s Opera Institute. His performances with the Institute included roles in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Così fan tutte, La Tragédie de Carmen, Angels in America, and other works.

For the past three summers Mr. Taylor has been a Gerdine Young Artist, and Richard Gaddes Festival Artist with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where he sang roles in The Barber of Seville, Shalimar the Clown, Madama Butterfly, and covered roles in La Bohème, Ariadne auf Naxos, The Trial and other operas. In 2016, he sang the role of Marcello in La Bohème with Crested Butte Festival, and Yamadori (Madama Butterfly) in Berkshire Opera’s inaugural season. He received his Bachelor’s of the Arts at Morgan State University, where he sang with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Jessie Castner (Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Leah de Gruyl) and her husband Brian (Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Ben Taylor)
Jessie Castner (Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Leah de Gruyl) and her husband Brian (Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Ben Taylor)

“There are a lot of wonderful challenges in this role for me,” Mr. Taylor added regarding the upcoming performances of The Long Walk. “This is the biggest role I have ever sung, as well as the hardest musically. One major hurdle is that I’m running in multiple scenes and singing at the same time. Being that I don’t run for exercise – or enjoyment – I had to learn to love it, at least for a few months!” Sustaining the breath control and tone production so necessary in opera, while involved in vigorous physical action is, indeed, no easy task.

“I have a lot of family members who have served in almost every branch of the military, and just as many friends that have served as well. One of my best friends served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he deals with his own ‘long walk.’ Doing this piece is special to me because I am able to have a glimpse of what Brian and my friend experienced after coming back from the war and empathize with them on some level.”

Since past seasons have proved that the company’s Resident Artist productions are frequently very impressive highlights of the winter months, Pittsburgh Opera’s The  Long Walk  should prove a worthy presentation of the work’s first local hearing.

Joining Mr. Taylor in the cast will be Resident Artists Leah de Gruyl, Eric Ferring, Shannon Jennings, Ashley Fabian and others. Glenn Lewis will conduct for the production, directed by Frances Rabalais and designed by Kathryn Fetrow.

For tickets, full cast and production details, educational resources and much more, please visit Pittsburgh Opera.

David Bachman Photography