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‘Fallujah’: The Story

Christian Ellis
Christian Ellis | Photo: Explore.org

The opera “Fallujah” spans a 72-hour holding period in a veterans’ hospital following U.S. 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 one of the opening scenesm, Wissam, a young Iraqi boy, enters Philip’s 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.

The opera “Fallujah”was composed by Tobin Stokes and the libretto is by Heather Raffo. The opera was originally commissioned by City Opera Vancouver. The television production is a collaboration between KCETLink Media Group, the Long Beach Opera, and explore.org.

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