An Operatic Take on Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning

A scene from 'The Source,' an opera by Ted Hearne and Mark Doten (Photo: James Matthew Daniel/SF Opera)

There’s a category of opera called "CNN Opera," describing a production about a modern political event or movement. Berkeley composer John Adams and working partner Peter Sellars perfected the form in operas like The Death of Klinghoffer and Nixon in China -- both of which comment on recent history.

Now, to that list we can add The Source, opening Feb. 24 in San Francisco. The opera, by composer Ted Hearne and librettist Mark Doten, explores transgender soldier Chelsea Manning’s decision to disclose hundreds of thousands of classified and sensitive documents about the U.S. war in Iraq to Wikileaks. Hearne (who teaches composition at U.S.C.) and Doten tell their story with an auditory collage built out of news reports, Twitter blasts, emails between Manning and a hacker, and excerpts from the leaked documents -- all sung by a group of vocalists using a lot of Autotune.

Ted Hearne, composer of ‘The Source’
Ted Hearne, composer of ‘The Source.’ (Photo: Nathan Lee Bush)

The story is all the more compelling after former President Obama's decision to pardon Manning, and after Wikileaks went from being seen as a hero of the left to its villain by distributing hacked emails from Democratic National Committee officials during the 2016 campaign. This is not your grandmother's opera, but if she marched recently wearing a pussy hat she crocheted herself, bring her along. 

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'The Source' runs Feb. 24–March 3 at the Taube Atrium Theater. Details for the show, presented by the San Francisco Opera Lab, are here.

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