NUKE SINGING: Notes on Framing Questions of Mass Destruction in Opera

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


In one of the interviews about his Stuttgart production (1988) of Philip Glass’s and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach (1976) director Achim Freyer talks about the fantasy of the end of the world. He asserts that in all mannerist, non-classical epochs, including the one he himself is living in, apocalyptic themes are common. However, his point of view is that “we” are destroyers of our own world, even when we act to save it. The music of the spaceship scene of Einstein, in which the cadential-like formula is constantly reworked towards the climax, obviously intrigued Freyer, since in the synopsis of the fourth act the blast is mentioned, as is the beauty of the explosion. Glass and Wilson’s idea of building a crescendo in the last act leads to the imaginary (nuclear) blast at the end (linked also with Einstein’s legacy).
Certain apocalyptic references in Einstein on the Beach chime with Nevil Shute’s novel “On the Beach” (1957). This novel tells a post-apocalyptic story following nuclear conflict, with life on earth effectively destroyed by inhabitants of the Northern hemisphere. The post-nuclear war drama is related to the clouds of highly contaminated radioactive matter that makes slow but steady progress towards Australia, threatening to make it a dead place too. The main protagonists battle to face their own ends in particular and unique ways.
In several other operas the subject of nuclear explosion is elaborated: Three Tales (Bikini) (2002) by Steve Reich and Beryl Korot, Dr Atomic (2005) by Johan Adams and Peter Sellars and All the Truths We Can Not See: A Chernobyl Story (2022) by Uljas Pulkkis and Glenda D. Goss. In this paper I will discuss how nuclear mass destruction was questioned in those pieces and how different ethical and aesthetical questions related to nuclear blast are illuminated when one sings about them.
Period18 Mar 2022
Event titleEnvironmental Opera Research Conference
Event typeConference
LocationHelsinki, FinlandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational