'An American Soldier' by David Henry Hwang to Open in New York 

Lillian Mottern
March 28, 2024

Theatre professor David Henry Hwang’s opera, An American Soldier, will premiere in New York this spring at the Perelman Performing Arts Center in Lower Manhattan. With a score by Huang Ruo and direction by Chay Yew, the opera features Hwang’s libretto and is based on the true story of Private Danny Chen, whose 2011 suicide while deployed to Afganistan sparked investigation and the ultimate court-martialing of his fellow U.S. soldiers. 

Originally commissioned by the Washington National Opera, the first iteration of the opera premiered at the Kennedy Center as a one-act piece in 2014 under the direction of David Paul. Following this production, an expanded, two-act version was performed in 2018 at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, this iteration directed by James Robinson. The much-anticipated, newest production of the opera marks An American Soldier’s New York City debut.  

Chen’s death sparked a debate about racism and hazing in the U.S. armed forces, and the opera explores this through Hwang’s libretto, which The New York Times described as “rueful,” in their review of the 2018 version. Ruo’s score traverses Copeland-esc Americana, Asian-inflected styles, and jazz. This production will feature tenor Brian Vu as Danny Chen, mezzo-soprano Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Chen’s mother, and soprano Hannah Cho as Chen’s school friend Josephine Young. Baritone Alex DeSocio plays Sgt. Aaron Marcum, one of the soldiers charged in the investigation. 

The piece opens in the courtroom where the investigations surrounding Chen’s death took place and Hwang’s libretto uses flashbacks to flesh out the lead up to Chen’s death, as well as his upbringing in Manhattan’s Chinatown and his fateful decision to enlist in the U.S. Army. 

An American Soldier will run May 12–19 2024 at Perelman Performing Arts Center. More information can be found here.