First produced by London’s Tricycle Theatre in 2004 and revived at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Keith Burstein’s Manifest Destiny is back again at the King’s Head Theatre. It has been reworked, re-produced and reincarnated into a powerfully raw story of love and politics. The new production coincides with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the opera, with direction by Valentina Ceschi, has been re-titled Manifest Destiny 2011.
The OperaUpClose cast and crew deserve great credit for an effective presentation of difficult material. The story unfolds over three acts and follows America’s journey in the War on Terror. Set in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it also references the Palestinian and Israeli conflict and Islamic suicide bombers. The opera, by librettist Dick Edwards and composer Keith Burstein, is brought to life by a cast of five talented actors, accompanied by a live ensemble of violin, viola, clarinet and cello which are positioned in one corner of the stage.
The narrative loosely follows Romeo and Juliet, and opens with protagonist Daniel (David Menezes), a composer, begging his lover Leila (Emma Pettermerides) to stay after the two have struggled to settle their ideological differences. Leila leaves to join a suicide bomber cell in the Middle East where she meets Mohammed (Dario Dugandzic), and together they plan a suicide mission to Afghanistan. However, on the eve of their mission, Leila and Mohammed abandon their plan when they realise that a peaceful solution to the conflict is a better way. Meanwhile, The President of the United States (Katrina Waters) and the Director of the CIA (Tom Kennedy) prance around the stage bantering over international affairs. Like many portrayals of US political leadership in the post 9/11 period, these characters are depicted as flamboyant, dense, money hungry and completely out of their minds. The piece poses many questions about terrorism and the consequences of war.
When the play begins, the audience is confronted by freestanding flowers and minimalistic props on stage, which leaves much to their imagination. However, as the action continues, live projections of Leila are shown on a white screen stretching across the orchestra’s corner. This form of media was quite intriguing and creative: an inter-active installation on stage; something you don’t often come across in opera, or a small box theatre such as the King’s Head.
I walked away from the theatre not sure, at first, how to react. The libretto is raw, honest and often very uncomfortable, but that was the point. The talented cast all have great voices; strong and able to tackle the challenges of the score. And the orchestra played well with some very beautiful moments.
Everyone has different reactions to 9/11, and there is wide range of opinions of the War on Terror but it’s refreshing to see OperaUpClose tackle such highly-charged, contemporary themes. Whether or not you’re sympathetic to the material, there’s always a wonderful experience to be had at London’s Little Opera House, and I suggest you don’t miss Manifest Destiny 2011.
The opera is being presented at the Kings Head Theatre until 31st October, see website for details: https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/126518186/events