Hey, just because he makes books for the throne room doesn’t mean Uncle John can’t also have a highbrow side. For instance, he loves dressing up in his fanciest leopard-print tuxedo and taking Mrs. Uncle John out for a night at the opera…even if it’s one of these really weird operas.
A Brief History of Time
One of the most prestigious opera companies in the world, New York’s Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer Osvaldo Golijov and writer Alberto Manguel to create a work for its 2015 season based on Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. That was a little tricky, considering that the 1988 bestseller isn’t a work of narrative fiction, but a science textbook that attempted to explain complex astrophysics concepts like the big bang theory and black holes in an understandable way. The project never came together and never premiered, in part because the writers couldn’t find a way to make a plot.
First it was a terrifying novel by Stephen King about the descent into madness of a lodge’s winter caretaker, and then it was an even more terrifying Stanley Kubrick film starring Jack Nicholson. But there’s so much drama and chaos that it was apparently easily adaptable into an opera, too. (Hey, those old-fashioned operas usually feature a few deaths, and The Shining definitely has enough carnage to satisfy even the hardened opera fan’s bloodlust.) The Minnesota Opera premiered the work by Mark Campbell and Paul Moravec in 2016…where it sold out its first few performances and earned rave reviews.
CO2 is the chemical symbol for carbon dioxide, that gas that there’s too much of on the planet, as many learned from Al Gore’s lecture-turned-Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. This primarily English-language opera is based on that. Adapted into a series of operatic vignettes (and first presented in Italy in 2015) in which encroaching climate change proves disastrous for its characters, Al Gore himself was a character in early versions of the script.
As anyone who had to slog through it in high school knows, Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick is really about the psychology of obsession, as depicted through Captain Ahab’s determined search to locate the titular whale. But those elements are a lot easier to stage as an opera than other elements of the book, such as, say, a whaling ship and a giant whale. With the help of some special effects, Moby-Dick the opera was an instant hit after its debut in Dallas in 2010, and since then it’s become one of the most commonly produced operas in North America. Go figure.