Monday, February 18, 2008

Opera To Go 2008: The Translator

Of all the OTG operas, this one was the most challenging, both in its subject matter and the level of accuracy required of the singers. Kudos to Carla, Jess, Keith, and Calvin for adjusting so quickly and with great vocal precision to an unfamiliar electronic style that packs a huge emotional punch in an opera that goes to a place most of us would rather not think about.

The Translator

Libretto by Leanna Brodie
Music By David Ogborn
Video by Jarek Obsadny

Alessandra Jensen (mezzo soprano)
Crane (baritone)
Man (soprano)
Woman (tenor)

This work is written for voices and live electronics controlled via laptop by David Ogborn.

At a CIA black site, Alessandra Jensen translates the words of suspected terrorists from Pashtun to English as they are tortured by US forces in order to obtain information. At the beginning of the opera, she is translating a male teenager in obvious distress (offstage, recorded voices). She then watches a group of men pleading for mercy as they are being waterboarded (also via recorded voices offstage). She videotapes the scene with her cellphone and posts it to the internet. A radio announcer states that the White House has declared that the footage, which shows the torture and even possible death of detainees at the hands of US forces, is a hoax.

Alessandra is next seen being lectured by Crane, an officer, about the morally ambiguous world she is forced to inhabit. Crane makes the case that the US is merely trying to win the war, and if they need to bend the rules of engagement, so be it. Alessandra interjects that she has just watched a child die, chanting the poetry of Rahman Baba as he suffered. She rejects his world-view and is sent back to her quarters, where she is visited by a Man and a Woman, representing ordinary Americans who talk to her about fear, the desire for security, manifest destiny, the disappearance of jobs and health care, rising debt, etc. Alessandra is tormented by these voices and eventually decides to commit suicide by hanging while her cellphone is videotaping. As she walks offstage to her doom, a radio voice states that a spokesman for the White House has declared that the videotape of Alessandra Jensen hanging herself is a hoax.

Opera To Go 2008 runs through February 23rd at the EnWave Theatre in Toronto as part of the Harbourfront Centre's World Stage 08.

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