Art has always been inspired by the times in which it was created. Even Beethoven felt compelled to compose when the Duke of Wellington won over Joseph Bonaparte in 1813 Spain. So it's not hard to understand why contemporary artists in the field of classical music, opera and dance, would want to talk about what's happening here and now. We put together a selection of pieces inspired by some of the news that made headlines in recent times.

1 Covid Fan Tutte

Finnish National Opera's artistic director Lilli Paasikivi described Covid fan tutte  a topical opera that took the Mozart classic and transformed it to cast a satirical look into the way Finland dealt with the pandemic crisis – as a “unique production for unique circumstances.” 

2 Anthropocene

As scientists are warning the world about the worrying climate change and the ever melting ice at the poles, composer Stuart MacRae and librettist Louise Welsh decided to explore this important topic with Anthropocene, an opera premiered in Glasgow in January 2019.

3 Remnants for Poet and Orchestra

James B. Wilson and Yomi Sode's Remnants for Poet and Orchestra, premiered in October 2020 in London, was inspired by an image captured by Thomson Reuters photographer Dylan Martinez: during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the UK, protester Patrick Hutchinson was pictured carrying a counter-protester to safety.

4 Flight Pattern

Canadian choreographer and dancer Crystal Pite's Flight Pattern, set to the first movement of Henryk Górecki's Symphony no. 3, shines a spotlight on the human tragedy connected with the refugee crisis, in a moving exploration of personal relationships and the suffering of millions of displaced people. 

5 Never to Forget

English composer Howard Goodall's moving choral piece, commissioned by the London Symphony Chorus, aims to serve as a tribute and memorial to the UK health and care workers who have died from Covid-19. The lyrics are composed by their names, and the piece is sadly ever evolving, as more names are added as time goes on. The piece started with 122 names in 2020 but counted 285 when it was performed live in London in July 2021.

6 Prism

This poignant Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, which explores the trauma of sexual assault, was not strictly inspired by the #metoo movement, since its creators – composer Ellen Reid and librettist Roxie Perkins – had begun writing it already in 2015 as a way to overcome their own experiences. However, as the opera was premiered in 2019, it strongly resonated with the worldwide movement to bring voice to the victims of abuse.

7 Become Ocean

The theme of global warming is also explored in John Luther Adams' Become Ocean, a Pulitzer Prize-winning orchestral work that incorporates spoken word, on-site recordings and vocal and electronic elements to overwhelm the audience with the feeling of rising waters, an experience that one of our reviewers described by saying: “we at times seem on the surface of the water, at times in it, and even of it.” 

8 Accused

Accused: three interrogations for soprano and orchestra uses texts taken from three different real-life interrogations in different times: the French revolution, the 1960s in the former East Germany and 2010, as witness Adrian Lamo dialogued with Chelsea Manning's lawyer. Manning was convicted for violations of the US Espionage Act, and in the words of soprano Anu Komsi, “this magnificent work is one of the greatest compositions by Magnus Lindberg, the most important work ever, as it's very political and as relevant as ever today.”

9 Denis and Katya

Composer Philip Venables and librettist-director Ted Huffman were inspired by the reaction to the tragedy of two 15-year old Russian runaways, Denis Muravyov and Katya Vlasova, who in 2016 live-streamed a standoff with the local police that eventually led to their deaths. The opera does not feature the two teenagers, but rather looks at the media reaction to their story and to how today's social media usage can quickly turn toxic.

10 The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko

This opera, that premiered just last month, explores the events around the poisoning of a Russian ex-intelligence officer living in London, which was on front page news worldwide in 2006. With this work, composer Anthony Bolton and librettist Kit Hesketh-Harvey criticise the Russian government and Litvinenko's own widow was openly supportive of this project.