Ted Hearne's The Source at SF Opera Lab
February 25, 2017
* Notes *
Yesterday SF Opera Lab opened a second season with Ted Hearne's disturbing oratorio The Source. The 2012 piece concerns Chelsea Manning's disclosure to WikiLeaks of classified material about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unconventionally staged with the four singers dispersed in the audience (Isaiah Robinson pictured left, photograph by Stefan Cohen) and with enormous video projections on each side, the experience was completely immersive.
Mark Doten's libretto uses primary source texts, tweets from Manning and Adrian Lamo (the former hacker that ultimately turned Manning in), chat logs from Manning and Lamo, interview questions posed to Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, and random cultural artifacts from the time period ranging from an interview of Steven Hawking to Big Boi's "Shutterbugg." The collection is unsettling, and all the more so because the repetitive vocals are highly processed by Philip White in real time.
The music is often loud and cacophonous, and the ensemble hidden above, behind one of the video screens, consisted of what amounts to a string trio plus keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. The playing and singing seemed to come off tightly together, most impressive given the lack of conductor. It wasn't at all clear to me how this was accomplished.
Most of the videos used were of people's faces as they watched the leaks, gleaned from footage of nearly 100 people taken by director Daniel Fish and production designer Jim Findlay. It is all very unsettling. When we finally see the gunsight footage of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, known as "Collateral Murder," we understand all too well what these people have been reacting to and experience it for ourselves. The dead silence at the end lasted an uncomfortable and imposing amount of time.
Many audience members (I saw at least five at one time) fell asleep despite the volume of the music and fact that they may have been next to one of the vocalists. This was all the more obvious because the two halves of the audience faced one another.