Manifest Destiny – [Libretto]

There will be a concert version of this piece performed at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn on June 27th 2004 as a benefit for the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission


Written with composer Keith Burstein ( Manifest Destiny is an opera that looks at the “war on terror” primarily from the point of view of a suicide bomber, Leila.

The opera follows a post 9/11 love affair between a Jewish composer and Leila Muslim poet and features the US President among it’s cast of characters.

The 30 minute first act , which moves between London and the Middle East, was presented as a concert performance with piano and singers at The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone on Saturday November 22nd .

" I am attempting to use the subjective intensity of opera to open up the internal life of those directly caught up in extreme events" says Burstein, whose controversial work has previously been the subject of attention.

" The love story provides a vehicle to explore extreme points of view and the moral conflicts they induce. The White House, Guantanamo Bay and the Middle East all provide settings for what happens - much of the story’s meaning lies in it’s depiction of a London-based composer struggling to come to terms with events in the wider world."

Manifest Destiny has already provoked media comment. An article in The Observer on May 25th 2003('Terrorist opera set to storm theatre world' page 7 News Section) stated "Great operas have often been written about ugly and brutal subjects but acts of global terrorism though have rarely inspired classical composers. Now, that is about to change." There has also been coverage in The Asia Times and on the Reuters webpage. And on July 15th 2003 the opera featured on BBC 2’s Newsnight where opera director Peter Sellars commented , when asked about the subject of Manifest Destiny "If opera is not to deal with such issues…..then what?"

Previous press on Keith Burstein
" possibly Birtain’s most gifted young composer" -Matthew Boyden in his biography of Richard Strauss.
" You certainly know how to make waves"- Frank Bough interviewing Burstein on LBC Radio 1997

On 27th June (check this) a concert version of the full opera will be presented as a benefit performance at The Tricycle Theatre, London for the (Cuantanamo….etc.)

Synopsis of Manifest Destiny:

The intention behind the work is to realize the emotional life within the bombers' minds and therefore reveal a view of the world beyond our own western perspective , opera being a form peculiarly able to X-ray inner life in a way that explains outer actions. The characters are 'emotionalized' and therefore humanized.

The 'Manifest Destiny' of the title of this new work was the nineteenth century policy the Americans followed to justify the decimation of the native Indian. Having set the Rockies as their western boundary , gold was then found beyond to the west and to justify traversing this boundary into Indian Territory it was said to be the ' Manifest Destiny' of the white man to claim his rightful inheritance.

That boundary has now moved out into the world , at least as envisaged in the opera. The resistance line to it no longer , since 1989 the communism of the cold war , but fundamentalist Islam , the soldiers of the new army suicide bombers.

The internal life of such people is revealed by portraying Leila as an educated partly westernized Muslim poetess , caught up in her people's cause and traversing the line from describing the world as a poet to acting within it with terrible violence. The opera shows the forces that compel this transition , how it tears her apart from her British Jewish lover Daniel , a composer with whom she was working in London on a libretto for him to set which atomizes the current world crisis and how she returns to the middle east where she joins a suicide cell but is betrayed and sent to Guantanamo Bay where she hangs herself. On her death fragments of paper are found on which it transpires she has written the libretto - a hymn to freedom and justice - which reveals Leila reached a new incite into the power of love beyond violence. This is smuggled back to London and on which Daniel can now base his opera , ' Manifest Destiny.'
- a circular plan in which the subject of the opera is the opera itself.


Daniel , a Bristish Jewish composer
Leila , a Palestinian Muslim poetess , his lover
A Palestinian suicide bomber , Mohammed
Palestinian suicide bomber 2 , Omah
Mrs. President Hillary of US
Mr. Director of CIA
Jailer , Guantanamo Bay


Scene 1 London Post 9/11

The composer Daniel Xavier has gone blind. His condition is a response to the trauma of world events , now dominated by a seemingly unavoidable clash between the west and the retaliatory terrorism of the 'third world' whose spiritual values are perceived to be under threat. Between these two forces the 'innocent' suffer. Daniel’s condition is intensified by his love for a Muslim Palestinian poet , Leila, whom he has met while she studied in London. With her as librettist he was to have written an opera exploring and exposing the moral complexities of the current world crisis. But her involvement with these ideas slips over the line from artistic commentary into political commitment and she becomes complicit with a terrorist suicide cell. He pleads with her to avoid entrapment in violence , and confronts her willingness to kill the ‘innocent’ , but it is too late and after a harrowing confrontation she leaves. His world seems to be disintegrating and he falls into despair.

Now abandoned by her as she returns to the Middle East , unable to separate his love for her from his abhorrence of her possible actions and confronted by war he sinks deeper into a paralytic reverie , his ability to write swamped by huge events.
An endless parade of images passes before his mind as his blindness takes hold, the events that led to this cross roads in a Greek tragedy -(shown on screen)-the rise of Sharon , the fateful election of Bush hanging on the counting of a few votes and his stealing of the election by the Florida Supreme court.

The stage is set for a brave new world. Daniel’s sense of responsibility intensifies , his need to write grows , but his ability to do so is lost with the loss of Leila whose unfinished poem on the struggle for freedom and justice was his inspiration.

Scene 2 Middle East.

Leila is drawn into the culture of suicide cells. The cell members are serenely resigned to their martyrdom and feel themselves already to be in ascent towards heaven. They state they love death more than the west loves life. A member of her cell , Mohammed , has fallen deeply in love with her. She confuses her passion for the cause with her friendship with the bomber , but beneath she remains in love with the composer. Forced by the advances of the bomber to realize this , she rejects him. He is shocked by this rejection into realizing his love of Leila has grown more powerful than his commitment to martyrdom. And he does not want her to die , realizing her value to Islam is her great gift of poetry , not her power to kill. To save her life he will betray her to the Americans and in his madness of love and fear decides to offer himself to them as a ‘convert’. His real intention is to save Leila to change her destiny for Islam and for Man. His love for Leila forces him to realize he loves life more than death. His existence as a terrorist is over from that moment. A new destiny is at work.


Scene 1 The White House

Mrs. President and Mr. Director of the CIA flirt outrageously with each other while contemplating the ascent of the new American Empire. All justified as ' Manifest Destiny ' - the policy by which the genocide of Native Indian Americans was pursued to gain access to gold. Mr. Director declares that Mrs. President is to become ' the first American Emperor '.

Scene 2 Leila in Afghanistan/Daniel in London/Mohammed interrogated in the US

The characters of the opera commune across space and time.
Leila freezes in Afghanistan , Daniel calls out to Leila , the redeemer of his memory. She calls to him , for his music to let her breathe. She recalls how America destroyed the Indians for gold with their ‘Manifest Destiny ’policy and will now do the same to the Arabs for their oil. Mohammed is tortured by the CIA man. Mohammed claims complete loyalty to the US cause and embraces his torturer. Leila pleas that they only want to live in the beauty of their beliefs.

Scene 3 The White House

Mrs. President is coerced against her better judgment by Mr. Director of the CIA into signing authorization for war. She expresses misgivings as a mother and fears for the children of Arabia and for the American dead. The Director replies more die on our roads and states that there are issues which will outlive the President’s term of office therefore she must comply with the authorization. Mohammed is brought in and announces his conversion to the US cause. Mr. Director of the CIA announces that the new Manifest Destiny applies to everyone 'even the bums on our own campuses'. Mohammed is sent to Guantanamo Bay to interrogate Leila and extract her secrets. Secretly he longs to see her to ask her forgiveness for his betrayal of her and to seek from her redemption for his actions.


Scene 1 Guantanamo Bay

Leila is chastised by her jailer , who it transpires is also falling in love with her. Leila it seems is the unconscious bearer of a redemptive destiny that changes all who fall under its influence , finally transforming Leila herself. The jailer’s complexity of feelings are revealed when , having beaten her, he unbinds her and washes her feet. Mohammed arrives too late. Leila is dead by her own hand. He is handed by the jailer the scraps of paper on which she wrote something for her partner in London , the composer Daniel.

Scene 2 London

Inexplicably , Daniel’s blindness begins to lift , threads of light gradually forming into a radiant flood. He feels guilt to find his new wholeness and luxury of sight reveals a fractured world and one bereft of Leila. Yet mixed with his fears is joy.
He is startled from his trance by an unexpected visitor. It is Mohammed , the ex bomber. Shocked into contrition and remorse by the death of the poet in Guantanamo Bay , he brings her libretto , a renunciation of violence , to the composer. Daniel reads aloud the title , ' Manifest Destiny'. In it she has written , ‘ we have this choice , terror or love ’. Her text will now form the basis of his new opera.

Daniel , a Jew , and Mohammed , a Palestinian , embrace , united in tragedy and hope.

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