Headed out to Los Angeles this weekend to rehearse for The Source, Ted Hearne's oratorio based on the story of Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst, known for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. The text of the oratorio is both from these documents (the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary) and Manning's own words.
In The Source, Hearne uses genre as an expressive parameter—both to engage with the text and to comment on it. A passage that suddenly falls into a musical theater idiom under the line, "and there was talk of spreading her legs!" comments on the sensationalism of scandal in the media. Recitatives are distorted with auto-tune that breaks when pushed to the limit of its function in categorizing pitch, reminding one of the limits of binary thought. In a post in January, Hearne shared some of his thoughts about genre, specifically in relation to gender in this passage:
Genre comes from gender. This was a word that described grammatical differences before it was adapted into a word used to separate all human beings into two discrete categories of men and women. Today, genres herd different works of art into single categories based on any number of possible attribute filters. Who determines which filters are relevant is also a matter of power.
How does the audience determine these filters in The Source? How do these filters affect how the audience perceives the text? This great piece by Corrine Ramey and this review by Zachary Woolfe both discuss these issues of perception.
But perhaps hearing it from the source herself is more powerful. Even though I've heard the text for The Source many times now, I still hear Manning's words as personal, human, honest. Although Manning is now in prison, she is an activist and writer. In a piece this summer for The Guardian, she called for an end to the ban on trans people in the military, stating "defining ourselves for who we are is one of the most powerful & important rights that we have."
For more information and tickets, please visit L.A. Opera's website.