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'Manifest Destiny'

Arts Preview - The voices of Guantanamo.

By James Rampton.
459 words
24 June 2004
The Independent
(c) 2004 Independent Newspapers (UK) Limited . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, distributed or exploited in any way.

OPERA Manifest Destiny is the Redgraves' latest attempt to get British detainees released

CORIN AND Vanessa Redgrave's current obsession is Guantanamo Bay. In January, they set up the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission (GHRC) to try to get the detained Britons released. But the siblings' campaign is not confined to the corridors of power; it is now bearing artistic fruit. This Sunday, the Tricycle Theatre in north London is mounting, as a benefit for the GHRC, the world premiere of Manifest Destiny, an opera with music by Keith Burnstein and a libretto by Dic Edwards. It centres on a couple - Daniel, a Jewish composer, and Leila, a Palestinian writer - who are torn apart by the situation in the Middle East. A would-be suicide bomber, Leila is betrayed and sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Starring the soprano Bernadette Lord and the tenor Alexander Anderson-Hall, the opera traces the ill-fated couple's journey towards tragedy, sparked by Leila's decision to join a suicide cell. She is captured after one of her own group turns traitor, and ends up in Guantanamo Bay. Despite the entreaties of the (fictional, female) US president, Leila refuses to yield any secrets about her terrorist organisation, and is tortured to death.

As a gesture of reconciliation, a posthumous libretto that she has clandestinely written in Guantanamo is delivered to Daniel. It envisages a future in which violence and conflict are no longer necessary.

Burnstein has played the opera through twice for Corin, who finds it "restorative" and says that music can reach you at every level. He hopes that it will help to further the Commission's campaign for "due process" at Guantanamo.

Such "current affairs" works are all the rage at the moment. Another play, The Private Room, showing at the New End Theatre in Hampstead, also addresses the issue of Guantan-amo Bay, while a further piece, The Arab-Israeli Cookbook, serves up a reflection on the conflict in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Stuff Happens, Sir David Hare's eagerly awaited rumination on the war in Iraq, comes to the National Theatre in the autumn.

But why are so many writers now ripping their stories from the headlines? Tall, elegant and blonde, the black-clad Vanessa replies with a theatrical reference. "The words of Hamlet spring to mind. When Horatio is trying to stop him following the ghost, Hamlet says: `My soul cries out.' I think that's how writers feel - their souls cry out. That phrase describes the physical sensation when you're compelled to write by what you're feeling, seeing, hearing and knowing."

`Manifest Destiny' is at the Tricycle Theatre, London, NW6 (020-7328 1000) this Sunday at 7.30pm.

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