Entitled Mỹ Lai, the opera's libretto was created by Harriet Scott Chessman. The recording will feature the Kronos Quartet, vocalist Rinde Eckert, and multi-instrumentalist Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ.
Arranged for tenor, string quartet, and Vietnamese instruments, the piece will feature Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ playing the t’rưng, đàn bầu, and đàn tranh. The Kronos Quartet consists of violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist Sunny Yang, who will be celebrating the group's 50th anniversary in the 2023-24 season.
Mỹ Lai speaks of the massacre and the ethical dilemmas of an individual placed in an impossible situation, revealing the horrors of the Vietnam War.
"Mỹ Lai centers on Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, the U.S. Army helicopter pilot who intervened in the U.S. Army massacre of over 500 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians – nearly half of them children – in the hamlet of Mỹ Lai on March 16, 1968," composer Jonathan Berger explains.
"Appalled by what he saw, Thompson interceded by reporting the incident, landing his helicopter between the civilians and the troops in an attempt to prevent further bloodshed, and threatened to open fire on soldiers from his own country. Failing to stop the carnage, he flew a wounded child to safety, and his subsequent refusal to remain silent about the massacre forced an inquiry and trial that shocked the nation, yet it left Thompson vilified as a disloyal outcast for much of his life. Today marks the anniversary of the massacre. The recording is dedicated to the memory of Larry Colburn, one of the three soldiers on the helicopter, who attended the world premiere performance of Mỹ Lai in Chicago."
“The musical materials of Mỹ Lai are largely derived from a prayer recited near the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, beseeching pardon before the doors of judgment close,” Berger added. “The musical reference is used in the scenes where Thompson opens the helicopter door in an attempt to stop the massacre, and in the surreal television game show in which he becomes an unwilling contestant forced to guess what’s behind a hidden door.”
Commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with support from the Laura and Ricardo Rosenkranz Artistic Innovation Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundations 2013 Music Commissioning Awards initiative, and the National Endowment for the Arts, Mỹ Lai had its world premiere at the Harris Theater in Chicago, IL on January 29, 2016.
The quartet has presented Mỹ Lai this year on April 8 as part of its annual Kronos Festival at the SFJAZZ Miner Auditorium in San Francisco and April 23 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall in New York City.