January 23, 2024

CIM alum Armando Contreras reflects on guest role in CIM Opera Theater's "Glory Denied"

PC: Philip Groshong

Shortly before CIM Opera Theater began rehearsing its new production of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied (Jan. 27 and 28 at the Cleveland Museum of Art), CIM sat down with baritone Armando Contreras (BM ’14, Cole), a special guest invited to handle one of the opera’s tougher roles. Contreras plays Older Thompson, the post-war version of the work’s main character, Col. Jim Thompson, a U.S. soldier who endured nine years as a prisoner during the Vietnam War.  

Below are his answers.

Have you sung the role of Older Thompson before? If not, what about the role are you most looking forward to?  

This is my first time singing the role! Composer Tom Cipullo has captured the essence of this tragedy so perfectly in vocal range and dynamic range. The task of bringing this music to life is a great challenge, but very rewarding as a musician. With each new role I do, I discover more ways I can extend myself as an artist, and this role is the most extensive yet. 

How does it feel to be returning to CIM as a guest artist? 

It's a great honor to come back as a guest artist. CIM was crucial to my development as a professional singer. I learned so much from my voice teacher of 10 years, Vinson Cole, with whom I started at the age of 18. I also developed life-long friends from my 2010 CIM class. My first-year roommate in Cutter House, Paul Kim, played violin at my wedding! I also remain friends with classmates Nathan Watts and Ray Kim. 

What aspect of the role do you find especially meaningful?  

The story of Col. Floyd James Thompson is a true American tragedy. He was the longest-held American prisoner of war, spending nine years in captivity in Vietnam. The last five years were in solitary confinement. He held onto the hope of returning to his family, but upon returning to the U.S., he encountered incredible turmoil in his family life. This tragedy is so important for us to hear because it is a story that is rarely told in mainstream media. It also gives us a small glimpse of the immense struggles that our soldiers who come back from war or imprisonment endure.

Tell us a favorite musical memory from your time at CIM.  

Through CIM’s outreach program, I spent all four years as an assistant with the Cleveland School of the Arts Concert Choir. This group was invited to join a collection of choirs and the CIM Orchestra for a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at Severance Music Center. It was a wonderful experience helping to prepare the choir and performing alongside them for their magical moment at Severance! 

How about a favorite non-musical memory? 

My favorite moment at CIM has nothing to do with music. I was a member of the 2012 CIM basketball team, which won the Case Western Reserve University Intramural Championship. We beat the Case Western Reserve football team in the Semi-Final Round. I believe it remains the greatest athletic achievement in CIM history.  

What about Cleveland do you miss the most? (Aside from CIM, of course.)  

I was SO spoiled that I could walk to Severance Music Center and hear The Cleveland Orchestra play every weekend. I miss being able to hear the best orchestra in America whenever I wanted. I also miss endless wings and fries on Sundays at the Jolly Scholar. It was, $10, I think, and it was a Sunday tradition I miss very much.  

What should listeners expect from Glory Denied?   

This opera is literally life-changing. Laura Thompson-Weishaupt, the daughter of Col. Thompson, was estranged from her father near the end of his life. He died in 2002, and this opera premiered in 2007. Laura said it wasn't until she saw Glory Denied that she realized the hell he went through in Vietnam and the struggles he and her mother had at home. The opera became a healing experience for her in forgiving her dad. What an amazing story we get to experience in Cleveland. I hope many people are able to attend.