Tomorrow, In a Year is an opera based on the work and life of Charles Darwin. It is performed by Danish art collective, Hotel Pro Forma, with music by Swedish electronic band, The Knife. It contains opera, dance, avant garde music, projections, smoke effects, laser light effects, Darwin’s text ‘written’ in light on a screen, and very unconventional lyrics taken from Darwin’s notes. I attended the performance courtesy of the Melbourne Festival; so did my characters Gary and Lissa – here is what they thought:
Gary: I’ve never heard anyone sing about the fossil record before.
Lissa: Yes. It certainly was… unusual.
Gary: I might have listened to more of my grandad’s opera collection as a kid if they’d been singing about science instead of consumption.
Lissa: You have a point.
Gary: Did you like it?
Lissa: I thought it was really interesting. That mezzo-soprano, Kristina Wahlin, had such a beautiful voice. The dancers were fascinating too. Graceful and strange. The music was weird. I admit I wasn’t expecting you to like it.
Gary: Why did you invite me along then?
Lissa: When my boss gave me tickets to a show inspired by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, you were the very first person I thought of. I thought you might find it interesting, at least.
Gary: It was. People singing about carcasses and bones, larva and lava…
Lissa: Botany, biology and geology…
Gary: Yeah. It was cool.
Lissa: But I thought you might prefer more of a narrative structure. I had trouble getting into it to begin with. It’s not telling a linear story so much as exploring themes.
Gary: It’s not what I’m used to, but narratives don’t always work for me anyway. Sometimes I find everyone’s motivations confusing. Or stupid. This was more like… ah… sort of like science. Groups of ideas. Um… I don’t think I’m saying this properly.
Lissa: Well, it was in four movements, the way classical music and operas are. So yes, you’re right, they were themes rather than a linear narrative.
Gary: So the first bit was about Darwin’s work, the fossil record and developing his theories.
Lissa: It was about a response of nature, I think. The second part was about his daughter’s death. I think that was about organisms generally, how life is complex and how death is part of the process. [looks wryly at Gary] Normally.
Gary: I am dead. I’m just not… dead dead. Um. The third bit was about Darwin’s book being published and the fourth was about the future.
Lissa: I think those parts represented exploring society as an organism and then society evolving too.
Gary: The last bit was about the interrelationship of all things and the relationship of man to the world around him.
Lissa:… that’s a very good analysis!
Gary: It’s what it says in the program.
Gary: The program explained a lot. I kept reading the notes during the performance to remind myself what it was supposed to be about every time it changed.
Lissa: In the dark?
Gary: [widens his eyes meaningfully at her]
Lissa: Oh that’s right, super vampire vision. I forgot. Did those bright green lights outlining animals and leaves and stuff hurt your eyes?
Gary: Nah. I just squinted if it got too intense.
Lissa: What did you think of the music? And the dancing?
Gary: Everything’s based on mathematics. You told me that. Art and dance and music and stuff. So I looked for the patterns. The patterns were kind of weird in this, but I could see them, now I know to look.
Lissa: So you really liked it then?
Gary: It was about Darwin and science, and built on maths. Of course I liked it.
Lissa: An opera about Darwin is an awesome idea, isn’t it?
Gary: Though I wonder, sometimes, what he’d make of me and the whole… vampire thing.
Lissa: He’d probably make you his life’s work and write a massive set of books about you.
Gary: Yeah. [Sighs]. Seems a shame we never got to meet, really.
Lissa: Yeah. I bet the look on his little face would have been priceless.
Gary: … his little face?
Lissa: Just an expression. Like the expression on your little face this very instant.
*For newcomers, the GaryView is a review of books/films/TV/entertainment carried out as a conversation between Lissa Wilson (librarian) and Gary Hooper (vampire) , characters from my book ‘The Opposite of Life’.