An American Dream
By Jack Perla
Libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo
Commissioned by Seattle Opera
Sung in English with English surtitles
Friday, March 3, 2023 • 7:30 pm
Sunday, March 5, 2023 • 2:30 pm
The Egyptian Theatre
Treasured possessions become symbols of home in this contemporary opera inspired by true stories from American history.
Set during World War II, this eloquent, gripping American opera explores the lives of two women: a Japanese-American facing relocation to an incarceration camp and a German-Jewish immigrant grappling with the unknown fates of those left behind in Germany.
While this opera is a piece of fiction, the story was crafted from interviews with residents of Puget Sound, Washington, who experienced the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.
Join Us for a Pre-Performance Talk
Come to the Egyptian Theatre at 6:30 pm on Friday and 1:30 pm on Sunday for a 30-minute talk given by General Director Mark Junkert and learn more about the production, its history, the performers, and much more.
FREE with a ticket to the performance.
Minidoka: An American Concentration Camp
Watch the official park film for Minidoka National Historic Site, narrated by actor and activist George Takei. Learn about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the experiences of survivors and their descendants, and the site’s relevance to the complicated issues Americans face today.
Did you know?
February 19, 2023, marked 81 years to the day since President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order that would become the catalyst for the incarceration of around 120,000 Japanese-Americans. This included Japanese immigrants who were legally forbidden from becoming citizens, as well as American-born citizens and their children.
In 1943, renowned American landscape photographer Ansel Adams had an opportunity to photograph Japanese-American internees at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, California, which was then managed by his friend and fellow Sierra Club member, Ralph Merritt.
Adams focused on the internees and their activities, capturing images of family life in the barracks, people at work (such as welders, farmers, and garment makers), and recreational activities such as baseball and volleyball games. Adams presented a positive view of the incarcerated individuals, which was a stark contrast to the actual upheaval of forced evacuations and the bleak conditions of the camps. The scenes would have been similar at the Minidoka War Relocation Center here in Idaho.
In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, in which it acknowledged that the incarcerations were “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” This act authorized a $20,000 payment to Japanese-Americans who suffered “grave injustice” during World War II.
To view more of the images captured by Adams, read this article published by USA Today by clicking the button below:
* Opera Idaho Emerging Artist
A farmhouse on a Puget Sound island. American veteran Jim Crowley and Eva, his new wife, have come to buy a home. A German Jew, Eva desperately wants her parents to leave Germany, where their lives are in danger. She hopes her family will find peace and sanctuary in this place so far from the war. Meanwhile, inside the home, a Japanese American family, the Kobayashis, has heard that the FBI has been searching homes and taking away people of Japanese descent. The family burns their precious Japanese belongings and photographs of their family members in the hopes of avoiding arrest. Eva waits outside as Jim, knowing he has the upper hand, tries to get the father, Makoto Kobayashi, to sell the land for a fraction of what it is worth. The FBI arrives at the home and tells Makoto he is under arrest; the FBI found some old dynamite in the shed out back, and they say this contraband makes him a threat. Makoto has no choice but to sell the land to Jim. As the FBI agents take Makoto away, he promises to return for his teenage daughter, Setsuko.
Setsuko and her mother, Hiroko, have packed up the house. Setsuko holds her suitcase, ready to leave, when a postman delivers a letter. Setsuko sees that it is from Germany, for a woman named Eva. Angry that she is being forced to leave her home, the girl steals the letter.
A few weeks later
Jim and Eva move into their new home; they designate a room for Eva’s parents. Jim tries to keep Eva’s hopes up. Eva notices that small items have been left behind in the home: a piece of a record and a photograph. When she finds a beautiful Hinamatsuri doll hidden beneath a floorboard, Eva asks Jim about the previous owners. Jim tells her that they were “Japs,” sent to the “camps.” He tells her to throw away the doll, that it doesn’t belong in a room for her parents. Eva defies Jim’s wishes and hides the doll, promising to find its owner and return it at the war’s end.
Jim and Eva hear an announcement on the radio of Germany’s surrender. Eva writes to Setsuko, telling Setsuko she has something that belongs to her.
Later that month
While still incarcerated, Setsuko receives the letter. When her mother, who is gravely ill, inquires about the letter, Setsuko lies and explains that the letter is from her father, telling them to keep hope because the war is nearly done.
When Eva reads Setsuko’s response, Jim tells Eva that Setsuko is not allowed in their home. President Truman announces the dropping of the atomic bomb.
There is a knock on the door. It is Setsuko, who confronts Jim, reminding him that he coerced her family to sell their home for next to nothing. Eva asks Jim if this is true.
Jim tries to explain his actions to Eva. She leaves the room to retrieve the doll she has promised to return to Setsuko. While she is gone, Jim confronts Setsuko, and Setsuko admits to another reason for coming. She is here to return Eva’s letter. Eva returns to the room, and Setsuko gives her the letter. From the stolen letter, Eva learns of her parents’ fate, and she collapses. Setsuko must finish reading the letter for her. Jim tries to comfort Eva as Setsuko faces her future.