Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
 print preview
back DAN O’BRIEN  |  Visitations

Librettist’s Notes

Composer Jonathan Berger and I met over email. We were both fascinated by a book that Jonathan thought might make a good opera. For complicated reasons, as often happens, the book’s rights became unavailable.

But in the interim Jonathan and I had discovered that we liked each other, liked working together, admired each other’s artistry, and had many common thematic concerns, one of the most obvious being a fascination with mental illness and hauntings, psychological and otherwise. Theotokia (Hymn to the Mother of God) depicts a fictional character in a world of his own psychosis, whereas The War Reporter is the true story of Canadian journalist Paul Watson. In 1993 Watson took a photo (that would win him the Pulitzer Prize) of a dead US Army Ranger’s body desecrated by a street mob in Mogadishu. To this day Watson claims that when he took this picture he heard the dead soldier speak to him: “If you do this, I will own you forever.”

 Screen capture from The War Reporter. Video directed by Eric Koziol.

Theotokia is the story of reality impinging on madness, as our protagonist Leon must struggle with “real” memories, moments of painful lucidity, not to mention a visit from his mother—a woman struggling with her own mental illness. The War Reporter, with its PTSD-born hallucination, is the story of madness visiting an all-too-real world. Both stories are, in their own ways, visitations, a joint title that sprang fortuitously from the mind of our director Rinde Eckert.

The War Reporter’s libretto was adapted from a play I was writing about Paul, The Body of an American, as well as a book of poems that I’d end up calling simply War Reporter. Imagining the material as a libretto—for an experimental chamber opera, no less—in concert, if you will, with Jonathan Berger’s musical creations as they developed: all of this influenced the writing of both the play and the poems. It was an intensely rewarding experience for me to see the same material take shape in three different genres, at more or less the same time.

Much of the language in The War Reporter is adapted from Paul Watson’s writing and our conversations, emailed and in person.  end  

return to top