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'Manifest Destiny'

LONDON, May 28 (Reuters) - The usually serene world of British opera is to break radical new ground with a tale of Muslim radicals aimed at showing the human side of terror.

By Andrew Cawthorne 2003

"Manifest Destiny" is sure to ignite controversy when it takes to the London stage in autumn with its story of would-be suicide bomber Leila who wants to avenge her Palestinian father's death but ends up in U.S. custody
at Guantanamo Bay .

"What we wanted to show is that terrorists are human beings, with the same emotions as the rest of us," Welsh playwright Dic Edwards, who wrote the libretto, told Reuters. "While it's impossible to sympathise with terrorism, I think we have to, for the sake of the future, try and understand it.

English composer Keith Burstein, who is nearly half-way through the musical score, came up with the idea for the opera after last November's attacks on a hotel and airliner in Kenya . He has also written work commemorating the Holocaust. "After the bombings in Kenya , I just began to feel that we were being fed a miasma of lies about the truth of what is going on. The process of lies seemed to escalate into an insane climax towards the invasion of Iraq ," Burnstein told Reuters, referring to still unproven allegations of Iraqi weapons programmes.

While Manifest Destiny focuses on Leila's story and the psychological dramas around the unspecified terror group, it is also an overtly political work and will include parodies of President George W. Bush and the head of the CIA. The title comes from a 19th century U.S. policy to justify its expansion into native American territory. The opera's creators, both passionate believers in keeping art accessible to the public, have no fear of controversy. "I've always believed theatre is a place of debate. My last play, called Franco's Bastard, created a half-riot in Cardiff and ended up with questions in parliament," Edwards said.

In the opera, Leila is a westernised writer, studying in London and in love with Jewish composer Daniel, when she heads for the Middle East to join a suicide cell. Betrayed by one of the group -- who falls in love with her and doesn't want her to die -- Leila is captured and taken to the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba . There, she dies but not before secretly completing a work she was writing. 

Mohammad, the extremist group member also working as a double-agent for the Americans, smuggles the manuscript back to London , where Daniel uses it to compose an opera. "Leila has left this sort of vision which has enabled her to see beyond her Islamic fundamentalist dedication to murderous terrorism ... towards a renunciation of violence," Burstein said. "She understands love is a far more powerful weapon."

Manifest Destiny will first be performed with a piano and small cast at a fringe London theatre, before moving to a full-scale production at a bigger venue. It has already brought comparisons with the work of an American composer, John Adams, whose opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" took as its subject the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise-liner in 1985. Leon Klinghoffer was a disabled American Jewish man who was shot and pushed

Further back, famous works such as Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" and Wagner's "Ring Cycle" have sometimes been given political interpretations. But Burstein insisted Manifest Destiny was unprecedented in depicting current affairs. "I can't think of any other opera that has addressed such immediate circumstances ."

Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Steve Addison;



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