Monday, 13 April 2015

An opera for 9/11 ? Dealing with trauma in art

More thoughts on Tansy Davies Between Worlds at the ENO, for the 9/11 was such a horror that it would be inhuman not to respond in some way.  The idea that 9/11 shouldn't inspire opera is a non-issue. Not all operas are song and dance routines! Anyone familiar with Davies 's music would have known she wouldn't do kitsch.  Besides, there are lots of movies and plays on the events. Why not art instead of sensation ? John Adams wrote On the Transmigration of Souls very shortly afterwards, There have been numerous films on the subject, some sensational. Charles Wuorinen's Cyclops 2000  has 9/11 connections, because some involved in the commission were in an industry badly dented in the disaster.  Thomas Adès's America: a Prophecy (1999) turned out to be almost too true., with its images of firestorm and  destruction., though he was referring to the cataclysmic end of Mayan civilization.  

So there's no reason why 9/11 should not be a subject for opera. It could be approached from numerous different angles, including sensationalist gung-ho adventure, which fuels the macho mindset of violence that can lead to terrorism and wars of attrition. Given Tansy Davies's thing for sculptural forms, I thought she might explore abstract forms but she chose a very different route, deliberately eschewing the "outer" aspects for an "inner" lower-key approach. That honours the victims of 9/11, not outside observers.  Many of those who were killed didn't know what was going on. They didn't see the iconic images imprinted in the minds of those of us who watched it on TV. They were shrouded in darkness, largely cut off from the outside world, largely unable to communicate. They didn't see the fireballs, though they might have felt the buildings shake. At the time, Karlheinz Stockhausen made a comment, widely miscontrued, that the attacks were like art. That doesn't mean he condoned killing. He was saying, I think, that the audacity with which the attacks were planned, connects to the audacity of art, horribly misapplied. Hijacked, in every sense of the word.

Between Worlds is Tansy Davies's first major work employing voice, so she uses voice as instrument, extending the palette and opening up new possibilities. Many modern composers do that, like- Birtwistle ,Boulez, Gérard Grisey.  Read my review ENO Tansy Davies Between Worlds.  There's no rule book that says things can only be done one way. Please read my article Poetry Beyond Words and my piece on Boulez Pli selon Pli.  Sometimes music begins when we get away from literal text.  If I were revising Between Worlds and of course no one should, I'd tighten the tension, minimizing threnody and relatively minor parts like The Mother (though it was beautifully sung by Susan Bickley). But we are still too close to events not to need comfort.

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