Benjamin Taylor

Baritone Benjamin Taylor portrays Brian Castner.

The latest Pittsburgh Opera production, “The Long Walk,” is not alone in its subject matter.

“This is among a growing group of operas that are about soldiers’ experiences,” William Powers, director of administration and artistic operations, said. “There are a lot of stories being written now that try to express the turmoil and journey of these soldiers and what they’re feeling, through music.”

Powers will elaborate further during a program about the production scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 5 at Mt. Lebanon Public Library, featuring a musical preview and discussion about what it takes to bring “The Long Walk” to the stage. A similar library program in April preceded “The Summer King,” the operatic tribute to baseball legend Josh Gibson.

“There is a vibrant American operatic scene of composers taking contemporary issues, contemporary themes, and bringing them to life, just like Verdi and Puccini and Bizet,” Powers, a Mt. Lebanon resident, said about some of the more renowned 19th-century masters. “In some ways, it’s carrying on the tradition, and in other ways, it is advancing it through an American sonic language.”

Based on the 2012 autobiography of U.S. Air Force veteran Brian Castner, who served three tours of duty in the Middle East, “The Long Walk” features music by Julliard School graduate Jeremy Howard Beck and libretto by playwright Stephanie Fleischmann. Companies in Saratoga, N.Y., and Salt Lake City, Utah, have presented the opera so far.

“We are doing a new production of it, which means that while we’re given the music and the orchestral parts and so forth, the physical scenery and the costumes and the lighting, no one has seen that before,” Powers explained. “That’s brand new to Pittsburgh.”

Among those joining him for the library event is stage director Frances Rabalais, who will provide sketches of what audience members can expect to see when the performances start Jan. 20. Conductor Glenn Lewis, Pittsburgh Opera head of music, also will be at the library.

“He’ll talk about the musical side of the piece: What did Jeremy Beck do to evoke and create the mood and the aura musically that depicts Brian Castner’s life with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Powers said, noting that the composer “puts a couple of electric guitars in it and a few interesting instruments to evoke the sounds of the time.”

Leah de Gruyl

Mezzo-soprano Leah de Gruyl performs as Jessie Castner.

Cast members Benjamin Taylor, the baritone who sings Castner’s part, and mezzo-soprano Leah de Gruyl – who plays his wife, Jessie – round out the speakers for the evening.

According to Powers, Pittsburgh opera patrons have been receptive to contemporary works.

“They are very enthusiastic, which is always wildly reassuring,” he said. “While people know ‘La Bohème’ and ‘La Traviata,’ and they love to come see them, everyone loves a new story. Everyone loves a new musical language that says, how are they going to portray these characters and this story through this music. And we have a pretty good track record of selling out most of our newer shows.”

Castner’s book, “The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows,” takes its title from situations in which bomb disposal experts approach IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, to disarm.

The Pittsburgh Opera presents the Beck-Fleischmann version on Jan. 20, 23, 26 and 28 at the Pittsburgh CAPA School Theater, Downtown Pittsburgh, 111 Ninth St. For more information, visit

For more about Mt. Lebanon Public Library, visit

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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