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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In Context: My Lai

Jonathan Berger and Kronos Quartet's fevered character study featuring tenor Rinde Eckert and Vân Ánh Võ considers the line between duty and conscience. Context is everything, so get closer to the production through our series of curated links, videos, and articles. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #BAMNextWave.

Program Notes

My Lai (PDF)

Related Events

On Courage and Conscience
Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 6pm
Join journalist and author Eyal Press for a timely conversation about the ethics of disobedience.


Performing My Lai (BAM blog)
Tenor Rinde Eckert reflects on the creation of a work wrestling with the repercussions of atrocity, duty, and conscience nearly five decades after an international tragedy.

Shining Light on My Lai (BAM blog)
A look at how US Army pilot Hugh Thompson’s moral conflict and response to the civilian massacre inspired My Lai composer Jonathan Berger and David Harrington of Kronos Quartet.

Uniforms Transform into Paper (BAM blog)
Artist, veteran, and creator of Combat Paper Drew Cameron describes his work with the My Lai creative team—and what first inspired this transformative creative practice.
Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, reflects on her memories of the Vietnam War in anticipation of their upcoming exhibition The Vietnam War: 1945 – 1975.

How to Write About a Massacre (Literary Hub)
Librettist Harriet Scott Chessman describes researching the haunted aftermath of Thompson’s story and the emotional compass that guided her.

U.S. action in Syria: Another war for virtue? (The Washington Post)
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Vietnam Veteran Henry Allen reflects on America’s love of war, our “Calvinist itch” for moral purity, and the virtuous narratives we supply to justify foreign interventionism.

Watch & Listen

My Lai Pilot Hugh Thompson (NPR)
On the day of Thompson’s death, All Things Considered host Michele Norris recounts the Army pilot's heroic tale of breaking rank and interviews author Trent Angers on the ostracism that followed.

Vân Ánh Vanessa Võ: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (YouTube)
Vietnamese musician Vân Ánh Võ performs original compositions and an East-meets-West Erik Satie cover. See her introduce two traditional instruments that she plays onstage in My Lai: the one-string đàn bầu at 4:36 and the đàn tranh, a bamboo xylophone, at 11:24.

Inside the Quartet (The New York Times)
Kronos Quartet explores the mystery of how quartets communicate, narrating digital recordings that visually render the players in accordance with their participation in the music.

Now your turn...

How did you enjoy the show? Likes? Dislikes? Surprises? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #BAMNextWave.


  1. The most powerful piece I've recently experienced All the elements patiently lead us to a fierce crescendo and a bittersweet, swift denouement. A jo-ha-kyu resonance..

    It shook me up, in the best human being and creative senses. A brilliant work of art, and a layered homage to a brave pilot who tried to, but could not, stop a notorious crime against humanity. Please do go.

  2. Stunning. Each of the parts, the music, Kronos, Vo's music, Eckert, the videos, was superb, and they blended perfectly in time and space. Anguish of a lonely moral man struggling with a single life-changing event: contemplative, angry, focused, confused, pressured, isolated, those emotions and more oscillating, carrying us with it, and ultimately uplifting.

  3. I admired the courage of all the participants in addressing this difficult subject, and I was very glad a noted Vietnamese musician was a participant. I had never heard of Hugh Thompson and had never known there had been any heroes in the My Lai massacre which had shocked me so when I learned of it years ago. We cannot forget this horror. We can’t let it go.

    In commenting on the opera, I first have to confess that it is much easier for me to comment on new music after I’ve heard it a few times. I can have a different feeling then. However, in this first experience I felt that there was stiffness and heaviness in the opera—that it was too labored. When that happens, passion is not present and there is no forward motion, no ability to be moved, a deep feeling that yes, this is beautiful and I’m grateful for the chance to look at this awful subject and be stronger for it. I thought Rinde Eckert seemed unsure of what to do. He would often go to the edge of the stage and look out ineffectually. Also, the fact that he is dying and still troubled, not proud of his efforts to stop the massacre, going over and over what happened as if he had somehow been guilty of it, as if he should be tormented while Lt. Calley and his cronies didn’t seem to suffer at all (they must have felt guilty; why didn’t we see that?). He did good deeds and was punished by his inner confusion and anger while deathly ill; why?

    A major problem for me was the fact that I did not understand he was a hero who tried from the beginning to stop the massacre and not a participant who wished he had acted differently. I didn’t know this until after I had read program notes and the materials that were provided online. The opera should have been clear about it. It should have been complete in itself. I was very confused as I watched. The supplementary materials would then have added to the experience without having the experience depend upon them.

    It’s also hard to stage, dramatically, someone dying alone in a hospital. It can get heavy and dull. You want to feel you can be a better person through this, and there has to be motion and uplift so that you can have something you’ll be glad to take home with you, without making anything “nice” or falsely pretty. Otherwise you’ll feel empty and hopeless, with no care to see justice done or wrongs righted.

    There were problems with two of the online materials: no sound on the Kronos Quartet piece, and “Bringing It All Back Home” didn’t come up at all. At least this was true on my iPhone.

    Could the creators of this opera try again? It would be worth it. I know it’s already come out of very hard work.