Can an opera really help prevent further climate change? Or perhaps that is the wrong question. Fictional climate change scientist David Adamson, tonight's protagonist, puts it more pertinently: "if this is not my planet, then whose is it?" Few of us would dispute that our planet is in danger, an inescapable reality that affects us all. An opera bold enough to challenge us to engage with this reality is surely deserving of merit.
Carsen's staging consists of a central scrim framed by an electronic message board where facts and figures flash up to overwhelm us with the sheer density of information. Scenes depicting the uglier aspects of humanity materialise behind like hallucinations, so that awaiting passengers whip into a delirium when a departures board in the airport of Scene 2 shows that all flights are cancelled, the stage blacking out and the electronic frame blinking red. A vision of greed gone mad dawns in the supermarket of Scene 6: housewives victoriously paraded in trollies, singing homage to "Granny Smith! Cox's Pippin! All from England!" to background images of apples that roll and roll. We had written off Kyoto as a failure back in Scene 3 when UN delegates bellowed in a percussive babel that descended into a brawl.
Our heads were sent spinning through the sheer disconnected breadth and volume of the drama's material, but Gaia's descent from the gods focussed our perception to a pinpoint precision. Here, she is simultaneously the Greek personification of Earth and an exponent of physicist James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis - that our planet supports life only because it works as a self-regulating organism (in a complex process that we are in the process of unbalancing). "They have burnt my forests, flooded my plains," shrieked Jennifer Johnston in what was the most striking performance of the evening, "But they will not destroy me, they will destroy themselves!" This was followed by Edward Burtynsky's apocalyptic images of landscapes devastated by industry, and we witness scientific research and political discussion eclipsed by the seemingly stark reality that, unless it changes its behaviour, humankind is doomed.
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