US funds an opera about its ugliest massacre

US funds an opera about its ugliest massacre


norman lebrecht

December 18, 2014

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded $80,000 towards the production costs of an opera on the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when more than 300 civilians were slaughtered by US forces.

The opera was commissioned by the Kronos quartet from composer Jonathan Berger and librettist Harriet Chessman. It is scheduled for pemiere in 2015 at Stanford University, where Berger is a music professor. He says: ‘I think it will be a reasonably abstract performance… We’re not going to have war scenes set out on the stage…No blood and gore.’

my lai1

Hard to imagine the Russians subsidising an opera on their Chechnya and Ukraine exploits.


  • Hank Drake says:

    Equally hard to imagine the Japanese subsidizing an opera about the Rape of Manchuria.

  • Dave T says:

    Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is jumping for joy.
    Thanks a lot.

  • Henrik says:

    And I thought the worst US massacres were Hiroshima and Nagasaki with hundreds of thousands of civilians massacred.

    • William Safford says:

      Two words: Christopher Columbus.

      • NYCMusic says:

        Except there was no US at the time of Columbus, but a lot of money-hungry Spaniards, Dutch, Portuguese, English, French… i.e Europeans!

        • William Safford says:

          I was thinking of the obliteration of most native Americans by the microbes imported to the New World by Christopher Columbus and his men (and others from Europe), but you’re right — there was not yet any U.S. back then.

          Maybe Tokyo or Dresden would be better examples.

          • Henrik says:

            But then the bombing of the non-military target Dresden was a joint British-American atrocity, with British “Bomber Harris” driving the revenge war crime. The microbes Columbus and his followers brought to the native America were not an intentional crime.
            All sides are to blame for the worst war crimes. Only the victors always enjoy the privilege of a sanitized history. It’s always a good idea to revive also the darker sides of ones history in artistic renderings like an opera, to raise awareness of the shortcomings of the human condition.

  • Dan Shore says:

    “Hard to imagine the Russians subsidising an opera on their Chechnya and Ukraine exploits.”

    Of course, there’s always this:

  • Nick says:

    I am at a loss to know how you can have any dramatic representation of a full-scale massacre in the middle of a truly horrific, bloody war in which millions died and weapons of mass destruction were used without having “war scenes set out on the stage…No blood and gore.’

    Is it going to be merely an intellectual argument about pros and cons of the wholly discredited domino theory and the rights and wrongs of cold blooded murder? Or will there be a Miss Saigon thread in there somewhere?

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    It took the US 46 years to get there, so the lecturing could be muted… In addition, when UK will sponsor an opera on Blair’s Irak stuff, you’ll have a point… until then.

  • william osborne says:

    My Lai has already been so often addressed it is no longer a threat, hence the funding. More recent atrocities such as the US funded and backed genocide of Mayan farmers in Guatemala would probably not be funded. So many people were killed by the death squads that jungle overgrew large regions of the country and changed even its satellite images. It is called the silent Holocaust because no one talks about. See:

    Probably won’t be seeing anything about that at Stanford for another 3 or 4 decades.

  • Nick says:

    Rather silly answer I suggest. No-one has said they’re yet writing an opera on “Blair’s Irak stuff” but if they were to do so, I trust all the deception and cover-ups would be portrayed on stage and not left to mere intellectual debate between characters. I trust too it would feature as principal characters the primary protagonists in that appalling chapter in history – Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice and their fellow misguided neocons.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    At least we now know there won’t be any operas about North Korea.

  • Gary says:

    Hopefully they’ll note the actions of Hugh Thompson and his crew.