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'Manifest Destiny'

Opera probes suffering of terrorists

Mon 28 June, 2004 09:35
By Alexandra Hudson

LONDON (Reuters) - An opera that breaks new ground with its sympathetic portrayal of Muslim radicals has begun a run in London.

"Manifest Destiny" aims to show that injustice fuels terror as it follows would-be suicide bomber Leila who sets out to avenge her Palestinian father's death, but ends up in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay.

The opera focuses on Leila's mental anguish in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, but passing scenes set in the Oval Office of the White House offer a provocative view on the motivations behind the American-led "war on terror".

"We wanted to show that potentially we are all suicide bombers if there is a cause," said Welsh playwright Dic Edwards, who wrote the libretto.

If people probed beyond their initial aversion to the bombers they would find common human motivations and gain greater understanding, he added.

"We tend to see things from a decorous, bourgeois view but if you dig into things and what lies at the bottom -- we are all the same."

The title "Manifest Destiny" comes from a 19th century U.S. policy to justify its expansion into native American territory, and the opera condemns a similar reckless adventurism in U.S. Middle East policy today.

"I think there is a huge pent-up rage about what Blair and Bush have done in Iraq," said English composer Keith Burstein.

"Opera is peculiarly able to X-ray issues and X-ray the soul in a way that other media do not," he said.

In the opera, Leila is a Palestinian writer in love with Daniel, a Jewish composer. Outrage at the sufferings of her people drives her to the Middle East where she commits herself to a militant cell.

Betrayed by one of the group -- who is imprisoned and tortured by Americans gaolers -- Leila is captured and taken to Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba. There she commits suicide but not before secretly completing a work which expresses her vision of peace.

Mohammad, the extremist group member who betrayed her, smuggles the manuscript back to London to give to Daniel.

"I hope the opera will surprise people by making the characters in this story seem to be very immediate and very real," said Burstein.

"There is also a symbol at the end of a possible reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews."

The opera will move to a bigger production in the Autumn. 



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