My Lai: A Monodrama for tenor, string quartet, and Vietnamese instruments
Smithsonian Folkways has released a recording of My Lai (May 20, 2022), available for digital streaming, and in CD and vinyl. Please see below for more information about this recording.
Direction and set design by Mark DeChiazza and Rinde Eckert
Video design by Mark DeChiazza
Lighting design by Brian H. Scott
I wrote the libretto for this operatic piece, composed by Jonathan Berger. My Lai is about Hugh Thompson, the Army helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War who courageously intervened in the U.S. Army massacre of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968, only to be haunted for the rest of his life by that morning, and by his own government’s efforts to undermine his testimony.
“Fifty Years After the My Lai Massacre, An Opera Confronts the Past” — NPR Weekend Edition, Neda Ulaby
“My Lai”: BBC Interview with David Harrington (The Kronos Quartet) and Harriet Scott Chessman, by Robin Warren for the BBC
“My Lai Revisited: One Man’s Journey,” by Jacki Apple for FABRIK. “Chessman’s libretto is a brilliant montage of moments, snapshot flashes of images, bursts of emotions, slivers of repeating memories that ebb and flow in Thompson’s inner monolog as he confronts his own impending death.”
“The half-spoken, half-sung vocal writing moved in sometimes jagged, expressionistic intervals, the character’s recollections peppered with obscenities common to GI-speak, especially in the heat of battle. Chessman’s memory play mixes poetry, slang and hurt with fierce brilliance.”
For a glimpse of this collaboration, early on, click here.
Commissioned by Harris Theater for Music and Dance with support from the Laura and Ricardo Rosenkranz Artistic Innovation Fund and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundations 2013 Music Commissioning Awards initiative, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Information about the Smithsonian Folkways recording:
David Harrington, violin
John Sherba, violin
Hank Dutt, viola
Sunny Yang, cello
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ, t’ru’ng, Cfan bau, Cfan tranh
Rinde Eckert, vocalist
Music by Jonathan Berger
Libretto by Harriet Scott Chessman
Produced by Scott Fraser and Kronos Quartet
Recorded by Scott Fraser at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California, March 26-30, 2018
Assistant Engineer: Robert Kirby
Mixed by Scott Fraser and Kronos Quartet
Mastered by Scott Fraser
Executive Producer: Janet Cowperthwaite
Project Supervisor for Kronos: Reshena Liao
Annotated by Jonathan Berger and Tran Van Due
Dedicated to the memory of Larry Colburn
Cover Photo by Ronald Haeberle
Artist photo by Zoran Orlic
Audio sample of Quang Ngai lullaby by Pham Thi Mac used with permission from the Vietnam Institute of Musicology.
Audio sample from J.B. Lenoir’s “Vietnam Blues” (1980, L+R Records) courtesy of Bellaphon records GmbH, Germany.
For the Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association: Janet Cowperthwaite, Executive Director; with Mason Dille, Dana Dizon, Sarah Donahue, Reshena Liao, Nikolas McConnie-Saad, and Karen Nagy.
My Lai (music by Jonathan Berger, libretto by Harriet Scott Chessman) was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet, Rinde Eckert, and Van-Anh Vanessa Vo by the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with support from the Laura and Ricardo Rosenkranz Artistic Innovation Fund and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundations 2013 Music Commissioning Awards initiative, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
My Lai was recorded with support from Donald and Karen Evarts.
My Lai received its world premiere at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago, IL, on January 29, 2016, with Larry Colburn, one of the other two men in Hugh Thompson Jr.’s helicopter crew, in attendance. The production was also presented by Singapore International Festival of Arts in Singapore; BAM’s Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn, NY; Cal Performances in Berkeley, CA; Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA in Los Angeles, CA; and Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, IA.
For the live production of My Lai:
Mark DeChiazza, Rinde Eckert, directors/set designers
Mark DeChiazza, video projections designer
Brian H. Scott, lighting designer Drew Cameron, creative consultant Janet Cowperthwaite, producer
Kronos Performing Arts Association, production management
Special thanks to: Mark DeChiazza, Brian H. Scott, Drew Cameron, Scott Fraser, Brian Mohr, Gregory Kuhn; Michael Tiknis, Joe Melillo, Keng Sen Ong, Matras Tarnopolsky, Kristy Edmunds, Jacob Yarrow, Chris Lorway; Pham Minh Huong, Tran Due Van, David Calleja, Jeannette Boudreau, Connie Field, Maureen Jules, Trent Angers; Regan Harrington, Mizue, Holland, and Jason Sherba, Greg Dubinsky, and Frederic Rosselet.
Smithsonian Folkways Executive Producers: Daniel E. Sheehy and John Smith
Production Manager: Mary Monseur
Production Assistant: Kate Harrington
Editorial Assistance by James Deutsch and Frank Proschan
Art Direction, Design, and Layout by Caroline Gut