Written with composer Keith Burstein (www.keithburtsein.co.uk)
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
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
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."
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
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
of Manifest Destiny "If opera is not to deal with such issues…..then
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.
MANIFEST DESTINY - synopsis DIC EDWARDS / KEITH BURSTEIN
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
her to the Americans and in his madness of love and fear decides to offer
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
that changes all who fall under its influence , finally transforming
herself. The jailer’s complexity of feelings are revealed when
, having beaten her, he unbinds her and washes her feet. Mohammed arrives
Leila is dead by her own hand. He is handed by the jailer the scraps
paper on which she wrote something for her partner in London , the composer
Scene 2 London
Inexplicably , Daniel’s blindness begins to lift , threads of
light gradually forming into a radiant flood. He feels guilt to find
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
Guantanamo Bay , he brings her libretto , a renunciation of violence
, to the composer. Daniel reads aloud the title , ' Manifest Destiny'.
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.