Exploding Eyeballs

Have been a bit mesmerized these past few weeks with all the buzz about the recent Metropolitan Opera resurrection of John Adam’s 1987 work, Nixon in China. It’s got me thinking about the role of music as a bystanding philosopher providing a looking glass upon which to reflect on current political events. I recently came across this excellent quote by Peter Sellars discussing Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer (thanks to Daniel Stephen Johnson’s blog for calling my attention to the excerpt):

One of the most important reasons to do these operas was to say precisely that we aren’t getting the actual history of our times. We are used to the media feeding frenzy, with the rush to judgment and the rush for the scoop, and then it all gets dropped. In the Age of Information we are strangely underinformed about what is going on and what is at stake—exactly because there’s a historical blank for so many Americans. The way journalism has evolved context is not reported very deeply. [As artists] we have to make a structure which is context rich. Opera is able to go inside to a place where the headlines aren’t going. The classic thing with Greek theater is that it’s not, say in Oedipus Rex, about what does an exploding eyeball look like, but about why someone would dig out their own eyes. Whether it’s about suicide bombers or 9/11 or any of these events that have happened to America, the question that is not allowed to be asked to this day is “Why would people do this?” That’s the question, of course, that drama asks. Exactly to find what was not in the news, what was missing from the news: that’s why we worked in this genre.

Thomas May, ed., The John Adams Reader: Essential Writings on an American Composer (Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, 2006), 241-242.

“Opera is able to go inside to a place where the headlines aren’t going.” How cool is that? Particularly in these days of blaring talk radio and white-washed network news.

I also hear the siren call to put on my Information Dissemination Hat as a librarian with Sellar’s comment on our unknowing even while we swim in 24/7 news. That’s what we do here in libraries and why we are so important to a democratic society. To provide unbiased and free access to information to our audience for them to sift through and make their own judgments (dismounting soapbox now).

Check out a recording of Nixon in China or watch a video of The Death of Klinghoffer in your Media Center. And if you missed the first hd go-round of the Met’s broadcasts, fear not. Nixon in China is scheduled for an encore showing on Wednesday, 2 March 2011.


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