...but is it opera?
OK, full disclosure, I have long been a fan of science fiction. But I had never heard of War with the Newts by the Czech writer Karel Căpek. My first contact with the piece was the working of the novel into an opera of the same name by Vladimir Franz, known informally as the "tattoo man." You can see why on the right.
The gist of the story is that some, shall we say, educable, mutant newts found in the South Seas are trained by humans to dive for pearls. Eventually the newts multiply and overpower humans in the conflict over land usage.
The story is simple enough, but the story proceeds to focus on the human need to deny reality, and it's blindness to the harmful things humans do to themselves. The story pits the individual against the group. The group, being the group, establishes the zeitgeist, the perception and definition of reality. Obvious deviation from the group ethos, by its nature, threatening to the group, becomes labeled "heretic", or non-conformist, etc., in order to keep the group oblivious of their constant denial of reality. Bobby, the young boy in the show, shows us the result of what happens when you can't deny reality any longer. Complex, I know!
My point here, though, is that this opera (at the Statni Opera in Prague) wouldn't work if you only saw it on one level. There is the music: dissonant, noisy, irritating, enchanting, the very well-paced music moves along with few dead spots-here annoying, there mesmerizing and compelling. It kept me focused and involved. It was fun and, at least one time, poignant. Above all, I think it works. It leaves you feeling uneasy; the intention of the composer I believe.
The stage set is fairly elaborate and colorful as are the costumes, which, I sat there thinking, reminded me of something familiar, then it occurred to me that they could be either a conscious or unconscious spoof of overweight, badly dressed Americans. Obviously another subtly amusing level of what is going on in this opera.
It is, in fact, a remarkably astute satire on human nature in the 21st Century. I'm sorry to say it's not very flattering to us humans. But I enjoyed it, it kept me interested right through the curtain calls. But, with an amalgam of musical genres of popular music seemingly mixed in, and the use of microphones (although for effect in certain scenes) you can't help but wonder if this is really an opera you are attending or a music hall, or watching TV or.....but it doesn't seem to matter much. It was fun!