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Jonathan Berger: My Lai

Rinde Eckert (tenor), Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ (musician); Kronos Quartet (Smithsonian Folkways)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Jonathan Berger
My Lai
Rinde Eckert (tenor), Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ (musician); Kronos Quartet
Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40251   70:52 mins

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On 16 March 1968, US forces killed 504 villagers at My Lai. The massacre was brought to light by Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, an observation pilot who courageously attempted to stop it, landing his helicopter to confront his own side and rescue some children.

Jonathan Berger’s monodrama, told through Thompson’s PTSD-wracked eyes as he is dying from cancer, is both threnody and protest, honouring the victims through the powerful combination of Vietnamese instruments expertly played by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ with intense string playing by the Kronos Quartet. Tenor Rinde Eckert brings Thompson eloquently to life as he relives the three landings he made that horrific day. The violence is evoked rather than described, most pointedly through ‘game show interruptions’ in which Thompson imagines himself a contestant in a ghastly, hyperreal show-cum-show trial. The score does not quite sustain the momentum of the compelling first landing. Yet the skilful interweaving of blues with Vietnamese melodies and material derived from prayers at Yom Kippur is hugely affecting, the thudding helicopter rotors ambiguous as terror and/or salvation.

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Steph Power