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My Lai, World Premiere of Staged Opera

Jonathan Berger, composer
Kronos Quartet, Rinde Eckert, Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ, performers
Rinde Eckert, director
Harriet Scott Chessman, librettist
Brian H. Scott, lighting designer

My Lai, an operatic monodrama for voice, traditional Vietnamese instruments, and string quartet, is composed by San Francisco Bay Area composer and Stanford University Professor of Music Jonathan Berger. An artistic portrayal of and response to the infamous 1968 civilian massacre by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, My Lai approaches the story from U.S. Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson’s perspective. In lieu of a linear narrative, the story emerges in fragments as the aging and infirm Thompson reflects on the war and on decades of being maligned as unpatriotic and traitorous for attempting to stop the slaughter. 

Dramatizing Thompson’s experience will engage audiences in the human story at the center of this historic event. My Lai will be more than just a reflection on a particular day, war, or time: it will challenge audiences to consider the consequences of human action and inaction, on the scale of society as a whole and of a single human life. The relationship of the traditional Vietnamese percussion instruments, many of which are made from spent shell casings, to the Vietnam War and the intermixing of the traditional instruments with string quartet, voice, and recorded sounds will produce a multi-layered musical experience in keeping with the complexity of the opera’s narrative.

The world premiere of My Lai is made possible with support from the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the Laura and Ricardo Rosenkranz Artistic Innovation Fund, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundations 2013 Music Commissioning Awards Initiative, and the National Endowment for the Arts, Commissioning Partners.

Earlier Event: December 12
MCD Design Lab: Combat Paper
Later Event: February 11
Mariposa County Arts Council