Back in 2001 newspaper columnist Tom Philpott wrote a compelling book called Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America’s Longest-Held Prisoner of War, the amazing, true story of Col. Floyd James “Jim” Thompson. The former Special Forces officer was captured by the Viet Cong in March 1964 and not released until 1973, giving him the dubious honor of being held longer than any other Prisoner of War in U.S. history.
Thompson suffered greatly during his nine years of captivity, physically and emotionally. To add to his troubles, while he was being held by the Viet Cong, Thompson’s wife moved with their four young children into the home of an Army sergeant.
The Thompsons reunited after his release, but their marriage soon dissolved. Thompson later suffered a stroke that diminished his mental capabilities. In his book, Tom Philpott told Jim Thompson’s story mainly through the verbatim testimony of his family, friends and colleagues. Much of Thompson’s own contributions came from interviews he gave for another book prior to his stroke.
The Jim Thompson story intrigued the composer Tom Cipullo , who sat down a few years ago and wrote a contemporary opera based on the tale. The Chelsea Opera in New York City put on several performances of Cipullo’s Glory Denied in November. The Boston Metro Opera will present a fully staged production with piano accompaniment in Jamaica Plain, Mass., on February 25 and 26. UrbanArias will offer six performances in Arlington, Virginia, beginning April 1.
New York Times critic Allan Kozinn called the Chelsea Opera Veterans Day performance, produced by Lynne Hayden-Findlay, “a spare, affecting production.”
Instead of presenting the Thompsons’ “wrenching history as a straight narrative, ” Kozinn said, “Mr. Cipullo tells it as a dialogue between past and present, with actions and their implications shown almost simultaneously.” Although the musical has only two characters, Cipullo has four singers play the two roles, as the younger and older Thompsons.