Reality versus virtual experience of war: Lecture recital of the opera War Without End

Jason Thomas Hoffmann


When the U.S. goes to war, the perspectives of soldier, family and civilian must all be included and not minimized; war affects everyone, just in different ways. Given the realities of multiple deployments and their effects on individual soldiers and family members, the soldier has to make decisions about what to and not to tell family members about war. Family members face similar dilemmas about what to and not to tell deployed soldiers, because soldiers often will be powerless to help their families at home. Civilians may watch news clips or documentaries about the wars but rarely understand the emotional impact of deployment. In searching for a way to investigate the complex lines of communication at work for the soldier, family and civilian, music – specifically a multimedia opera – has been used. War Without End is a 1-act opera with 5 scenes for which I composed the music and wrote the libretto (with the assistance of David M. Bock). The narrative of the opera is fiction so that it might not tell one specific story but tell a story that could be applied to all soldiers. One of the main themes used throughout the opera is the myth of Sisyphus. Modern asymmetrical warfare in the current theater of operations is often compared to the task of continuously pushing a boulder up a hill every day for the length of a deployment. The ending of the fictional story is specifically a non-ending because the cycle of deployments has been continuous for over 12 years. Yet the fictional profile of the opera is purposefully obfuscated by the inclusion of video interviews (nonfiction) with my fellow combat veterans who answer general questions that introduce the themes of each scene. The video quality of the interviews is ugly, grainy and uncomfortable to watch because they are recorded Skype chat sessions of soldiers from all over the world. Skype is the primary means that soldiers and families have to communicate. Although they are clearly nonfiction, the videos act as a kind of Greek Chorus. The juxtaposition of nonfiction and fiction acts to tell a bigger story that further engages the audience. The musical setting of this fictional narrative has a way of bringing the experience to the audience in a visceral, emotional way. Music can express much more than the visual realm because this music lacks the gratuitous use of photographic and videoed violence associated with war. So often in our culture, we focus on the visual elements (of a documentary) as the best way of understanding the “truth” or “reality” of an experience. But music expresses another level of “reality”: the shifting lines of communication as they impact the emotional level.



War, Reality, Virtual

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