The Manchurian Candidate is about the use of fear and paranoia in politics. The piece is a genuine thriller that provides audiences with a combination rare in the opera world: a stirring narrative full of action and suspense, punctuated by deeply moving passages that allow us to get into the minds of these fascinating characters. Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have written a truly theatrical opera. The Manchurian Candidate leaps off the page, and the attention to structural detail is a gift for a director, cast and design team. The heightened theatrical structure of The Manchurian Candidate allows for ensemble-based storytelling, with the entire cast moving us from scene to scene as the experiment in fear unfolds.
During the height of McCarthyism in the 1950s, the United States witnessed its first nationwide media event. Trials and hearings were televised and news teams followed the Red Scare, and the fearmongering it generated, with fascination — bringing the story into every American living room.
The overall envelope of our production features a flexible space that can transform seamlessly into each of the nearly two-dozen locations, with colorful Eisenhower-era details providing us with a sense of time and place. Searchlights, banks of televisions, on-stage cameras and a giant “Jumbotron” track the characters’ every move with Orwellian precision, from the initial brainwashing demonstration to the denouement at the Republican National Convention. The world of our production feels part television studio, part convention center, part experimental lab.
In 2015, we continue to learn about how governments use fear to dictate policy, often at the expense of our civil rights. We are all under surveillance, and “perfect trained killers” make up the ranks of our government and our armed forces. How does our government and our media use fear to govern policy? How much have we learned since the McCarthy era?