TICKETS / Santa Cruz / Del Mar Theatre
The Whistleblower of My Lai is a unique fusion of opera and documentary that blends the emotional crystallization of a dramatized human story with the concreteness of real life. It tells a story that captures both the best and worst of humanity through the examination of one incident in one man’s life: Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson and his discovery and exposure of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
The opera is created by composer Jonathan Berger and librettist Harriet Chessman, and performed by the Kronos Quartet, tenor Rinde Eckert and master Vietnamese musician, Van-Anh Vo. The richly evocative score by Berger alternates between bursts of dense, frenzied activity and slow, hymn-like harmonies of aching sweetness. The story portrays Thompson in his final days, dying of cancer and desperately trying to make some sense of the events of 40 years earlier. Tenor Rinde Eckert makes Thompson a vivid and poignant character. Each episode is itself neatly framed, with Thompson’s present-day reminiscences fading into the events of 1968. In between are taped snippets of interrogation, in which Thompson’s shameful treatment at the hands of congressional investigators is transformed into a TV game show. The music underscores the drama with unerring clarity. The combined effect is hauntingly beautiful. The creators and performers innermost thoughts on the personal meaning of the Vietnam war, their understanding of who Hugh Thompson was and what he faced blend with the performance. The real horror of the massacre of over 500 Vietnamese civilians by American troops explodes on the screen capturing an historical moment the revelation of which traumatized American society, and lead to questioning the morality of its military.