Visitations (Theotokia and The War Reporter)
Composer: Jonathan Berger
Librettist: Dan O'Brien
Other Artistic Personnel: Tara Helen O’Connor (flutes)
Pascal Archer (clarinets)
Steven Schick (percussion)
Pedja Muzijevic (piano)
Geoff Nutall (violin)
Scott St. John (violin)
Lerley Robertson (viola)
Christopher Costanza (cello)
Stephen Tramontozzi (contrabass)
Original Cast: Heather Buck (soprano)
Geoffrey Williams
Steven Caldicott Wilson (tenor)
Christopher Dylan Herbert (baritone)
Craig Phillips (bass)
Work Web Site:
Premiere Date: April 12, 2013

Theotokia is an exploration of the mind of Leon, a schizophrenic who experiences religious hallucinations and suffers from obsessive ritualistic behavior.


Scene 1: Mother Anne, spiritual leader of the Shakers, invites Leon and her congregants to obtain a secret knowledge. 

Scene 2: The Yeti Mother, an imaginary mother of God, calls to Leon from her cave in the Himalayas.

Scene 3: Leon, an institutionalized schizophrenic, compulsively beats out a rhythm on his own body.

Scene 4: Leon’s mother laments her son’s condition, concluding accusatorily, “How could he do this to me?”

Scene 5: Leon obsessively reiterates his mother’s question, his speech transforming into glossolalia as he invokes the Yeti Mother.

Scene 6: The Yeti Mother answers Leon’s distress with a song in celebration of excrement.

Scene 7: The Yeti Mother reveals that she is Leon’s true mother, and that she, along with her congregation of Yetis, will help Leon transcend his physical limitations.

Scene 8: The Yeti Mother and her Yeti children transform into Mother Anne and her congregants once again, soothing Leon with the knowledge that he is now in possession of a secret knowledge. In a rare and painful moment of lucidity, however, Leon realizes that he is alone and suffering from his mental illness. 

 The War Reporter an opera in six scenes for five voices and chamber orchestra Music by Jonathan Berger Libretto by Dan O’Brien The War Reporter depicts the true story of the inner struggle of Paul Watson, a war reporter who believes he is being haunted by the spirit of the desecrated American soldier he photographed in the streets of Mogadishu in 1993 (a photograph that won Watson the Pulitzer Prize shortly thereafter). Although the libretto’s narrative traverses six geographical locations, the actual drama is set entirely in the psyche of the reporter as he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. 


Scene 1: Mogadishu. The site of the downing of a Blackhawk helicopter during the 1993 U.S -led raid on Mogadishu. Watson and his interpreter pursue the rumor of a captured American soldier and find his corpse being mutilated in the street by a mob. Watson photographs the corpse, but as he is about to snap the photo he hears the voice of Staff Sergeant William David Cleveland warn him: “If you do this, I will own you forever.” Watson takes the photograph.

Scene 2: Columbia. In Columbia University’s stately Low Library, a reception for Watson’s Pulitzer Prize is underway. Amidst a flurry of congratulation and well-wishes, Watson grows increasingly distracted, if not disturbed. The reception party transforms into a vivid and violent reimagining of the brutality of the desecration of Cleveland, culminating in the ominous warning, “The ghosts are getting closer.” Watson’s boss John Honderich makes note of his reporter’s emotional state. Watson replies that he feels badly about the soldier’s family. Honderich asks if he has sought out Sergeant Cleveland’s mother yet, to apologize or at least explain, and Watson is shocked at himself for not having done so already. Honderich reveals that Watson’s colleague Kevin Carter has also won a Pulitzer this year, for his photograph of a vulture waiting for a starving child in Sudan to expire. At first it appears that Carter is taunting Watson, boasting that he has received greater applause than Watson. Jarred back to reality, Watson hears Honderich in fact describing Carter’s recent suicide, presumably at the guilt caused by this photo of the vulture and the starving girl. Watson responds with anger at Carter, before admitting—at least to himself—that he has also considered suicide before but simply lacked the courage. Instead, Watson places himself in harm’s way by returning to war zones.

Scene 3: Johannesburg. In the office of Dr. Grinker, a psychiatrist in Johannesburg, Watson recounts his father’s experience as a soldier in World War Two. He becomes agitated by the memory of holding his dead father’s souvenir Lugar as a boy, and he connects that experience for the first time to his career as a war photographer. Grinker asks why Watson loathes himself—a revelatory idea to Watson—but registering his agitation Grinker suggests ending the session. Watson shows the photograph of Cleveland’s body to Grinker, who recognizes it. Watson reveals that he is constantly haunted by Cleveland’s ghost, and that the ghost is threatening, growing more vengeful.

Scene 4: Mosul. Watson’s death-wish takes him to war-torn Mosul in Iraq, where, while photographing a wounded student, he is attacked by a mob. He feels resignation, even elation at the apparent punishment he is about to receive. Instead, he is saved by a small group of Iraqis. Amazed that he has survived, he assumes it must be for some purpose. The haunting is not over. He asks, “What will I do now that I’m alive?”

Scene 5: Phoenix. Watson flies to Arizona intent on meeting Cleveland’s mother and begging her forgiveness. He drives to her trailer park, but she’s not home. Back at the hotel he leaves a message on her answering machine, and shortly receives a call from Cleveland’s brother, who asks him to leave his mother alone. Watson tries to engage the brother in conversation, asking him if the family hates him. The brother responds that he hates how Watson has “stirred up the ghosts” again. The brother says that Watson is not the one who killed his brother, not part of the mob that dragged his brother through the streets. The brother recalls finding out about Cleveland’s death and recognizing the body from Watson’s photograph. Watson tells the brother how he believes he is literally haunted by Cleveland. The brother suggests that perhaps Watson “owes” Cleveland something, but that it’s not for the brother—or anyone else—to figure that out. The brother rather abruptly takes his leave. Before the conversation ends Watson learns that the brother’s name is Ray, the same name as Watson’s father. Before hanging up Watson once again begs the mother’s forgiveness. 
Character List (Major):

Mother Anne (soprano)
Leon's Mother (soprano)
Yeti Mother (soprano)
Leon (countertenor)
congregant (tenor)
congregant (baritone)
congregant (bass)

The War Reporter:
Honderlich (soprano)
Paul's inner voice (soprano)
Paul's inner voice (countertenor)
Paul's inner voice (tenor)
Paul Watson (baritone)
Cleveland (bass)
Cleveland's brother (bass)

(NY Times, LA Times, New Yorker, SF Chronicle)

Length: 01:50
Total Acts: 2
Orchestration: ‘Pierrot’ ensemble (fl, cl, pno, perc, string quintet)
electronic sounds
Musical Style: Lyrical and expressive
Contact: Jonathan Berger
E-mail Address:
Phone: (650)996-1617
Composer Web Site:
Librettist Web Site:
Publisher Web Site:
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