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Multimedia opera probes Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning

The Brooklyn Paper
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Call it a covert ops-era.

“The Source,” a new opera premiering at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Oct. 22–25, is all about espionage and information. The composer of the piece said he wrote the play after he became fascinated by how Americans interact with an array of data far too vast for any one person to consume.

“Standing up to government security and the need for transparency are issues that are so huge and complex,” said composer and Park Sloper Ted Hearne. “We have access to everything at our fingertips but we can’t process it because it’s so much.”

“The Source” explores the saga of Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning, the former soldier who released a massive trove of confidential and sensitive information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also looks at the way in which the constant cycle of news and reaction to news shapes the media narrative and even the identities of those caught up in the spotlight.

The opera is an appropriately multimedia production, pairing music based on two texts — portions of the leaked Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and Manning’s chat logs with the man who eventually turned her in — with clips of dozens of people as they watch a video included in the information Manning gave to Wikileaks. That video — an aerial shot of an American airstrike in Baghdad that killed Reuters cameraman Namir Noor-Eldeen — was one of the most graphically shocking portions of the leaks, said Fish, and he became fascinated with how people reacted to viewing it.

“I hadn’t really previously looked at the Iraq war logs, and I became interested in whether people looked at them and how they looked when they did it,” Fish said.

Hearne began the project before Manning emerged as the source of the leaks, so while she became an important part of the story, the musical focuses more on the relationship between the data Wikileaks released and the lives of both the Americans who consume that information and the Iraqis and Afghans whose lives and deaths it concerns.

“People were being killed and it was being presented in this standardized way, and to heighten the impersonalness, I’m reading this stuff from Brooklyn,” he said.

Manning was convicted in 2013 on 17 charges, including espionage and theft. Hearne said he and a colleague traveled to view parts of the trial, where he said the poise with which Manning carried herself left a lasting impression on him.

“Seeing her in person, what a solid human being taking responsibility for her actions and standing behind them,” Hearne said. “I obviously didn’t get to talk to her, and maybe it’s silly to say you can get that kind of vibe just by seeing someone, but I did.”

“The Source” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music [30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Place and St. Felix Street, (718) 636–4100, bam.org] Oct. 22–25 at 7:30 pm. $20.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
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