Manifest Destiny - review

Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny - Assembly Room05 at St George's West, Edinburgh,
6th - 29th August at 4.00pm

Music by Keith Burstein, words by Dick Edwards. Directed by Dave Whyrow. Supported by Spectacle Theatre Company

manifest destiny ; libretto by dic edwards

Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2005

 Press Reviews

 "Excellent performances with truly amazing music.'Manifest Destiny' will haunt your soul for many a day. Of all the performances based around terrorism this year, this is the one to see. A miracle of a show that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes horrible. It is, however, always unforgettable." -

"A dazzling, dark opera... affecting, bold, potent and packed with melodic invention…A score that is so witty and so accessible…..Mahlerian harmonies and rhythmic patterns, a gorgeous waltz, and a cynical tango… Time and again – as in the greatest operatic works – tonal resolution and emotional closure come hand-in hand… it made me most mindful of Michael Tippett’s wonderful oratorio, 'A Child of Our Time'... Like so much great art, 'Manifest Destiny' marries the personal with the political, the particular and the universal… A simple and humanitarian message shines through unambiguously; that violence begets only violence in a cycle which must be broken as an act of human will; and that love is stronger than hatred… A brave, touching and timely work." - Scotland on Sunday

"A witty and surprisingly melodic neo-classical score... 'Manifest Destiny' is a considerable piece of work dealing with important themes that demands to be heard." - Sunday Herald

"Political, prescient and unmissable." - Sunday Telegraph

"A powerful piece, powerfully performed. Political opera is a very rare bird, even today, and this piece is one to be cherished." - British Theatre Guide

"Rigorous and high minded with a story in the environs of Greek tragedy... one admires Keith Burstein's ambition." - Daily Telegraph

"Operatic themes do not come more epic than this… fine performances from Bernadette Lord and Paul Carey Jones." - Scotsman

Venue Assembly At St George's West.(Venue 157).
Address St George West, Shandwick Place.
Reviewer Alex Eades.

I’ve always tried to avoid reviewing musicals because, well, to be perfectly honest I pretty much detest them. So, the musical section of the Fringe magazine was not really something I paid much attention to on the run up to the festival. As you all well know, we all have to do things we’d rather not sometimes and I found myself going to see an opera called Manifest Destiny, recommended to me for its look at the war on terrorism and American global power. I decided to go. I got my ticket, took a deep breath and took the plunge. I have to say, seeing Manifest Destiny was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The story is simple, but effective. We follow Leila, who sets to take revenge for her Palestinian fathers’ death by becoming a suicide bomber. However, things change as it comes to surface that her power of creativity is greater than that to cause death. Confused, she isolates herself eventually being caught by the Americans with tragic circumstances.

This has excellent performances with truly amazing music. Manifest Destiny will haunt your soul for many a day. Of all of the performances based around terrorism this year, this is the one to see. A miracle of a show that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes horrible. It is, however, always unforgettable.
© Alex Eades 18 August 2005 - Published on
Runs until 29 August.
Company - Daniel X Opera.
Company Website -

Manifest Destiny Music by Keith Burnstein, libretto by Dic Edwards
Daniel X Opera Assembly @ St George's West
Much has been written about Manifest Destiny's subject matter (the War on Terror) and Keith Burnstein's music (more melodic than most modern opera), and it is fitting that this should be so, for it is right that opera should take on such subjects.Leila, a Palestinian poetess, is writing a libretto for her partner, Daniel, an Israeli composer who is gradually going blind. The intensification of the polarisation between the West and the Muslim world leads her, first, into Palestinian activism and then to the pursuit of Jihad and martyrdom. Against this background a triangular love story grows (the third leg of the triangle being another Jihadi, Mohammed) and the scenes switche between Daniel's London flat, a terrorist training camp, the White House and Guantanamo Bay.Director David Wybrow has opted for a minimalist staging.

On the high St George's stage - no sightline problems that can bedevil some Fringe venues here! - sits a piano at stage right where Daniel is first discovered as the play opens, soon to be replaced by composer/accompanist Keith Burstein. This might be thought of as simply a convenience, as Fringe venues are not noted for having orchestra pits, but it is more than that, for it enables the recovering Daniel to place his score (with Leila's libretto) alongside the closed score of the opera at the very end - a very telling moment.Otherwise the set consists of three small black boxes that can be used as seats and a screen at the rear onto which are projected words, still images and video. High up on stage left is a screen onto which surtitles are projected: thanks to the singers' clarity of diction this was unnecessary for English speakers in the audience.

This minimalist approach to setting forces the audience to concentrate on the performances: there is nothing to take the attention away from the words and music. It also means that the singers have nothing to hide behind - it is not enough to stand and sing; they must make full use of body language.It is a powerful piece, powerfully performed.

Dic Edwards' libretto is spare and to the point, although there are a few typically Edwards obscurities - "Who is this partially explained person?" And there is also the unexplained, as so often in Edwards' work. How is it that the Director of the CIA can so dominate the President (called Hilary and looking remarkably like the wife of a certain ex-president)? We are presented with two alternatives: the polarisation of east and west as represented by the White House ("This is the American century" sings the CIA Director) and the possibilities of rapprochement, as exemplified by the love of Daniel and Leila and Mohammed's final hugely symbolic embrace of Daniel at the end.

Political opera is a very rare bird, even today, and this piece is one to be cherished.

Peter Lathan

back to the opening Dic Edwards page