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Geoscientist Online

Opera: The Anthropocene

How long is it since you last went to the opera?  I can’t remember when I last did, but seeing the title The Anthropocene was enough to suggest that I, as a geologist, should go to this one.  So, we braved the weather to head for Edinburgh on 2nd February, leaving freezing conditions outdoors to spend an evening viewing opera set in freezing conditions.

I’m not going to talk about the plot, other than in the most general terms, as that would spoil the experience for you. The Anthropocene, by composer Stuart MacRae and author Louise Welsh, is a story of adventure set near the Greenland coast on a research ship trapped by ice.  All human life is embodied in the characters—with greed, vanity, and ambition coming through alongside curiosity and wonder, for science and for the supernatural.  If it begins to sound like an ODP cruise, then that might be a good start.

This is a challenging piece.  It is never comfortable to see science portrayed on stage when conceived by non-scientists, but it is valuable to reflect on how others see us.  The Anthropocene sets out to encourage the audience to reflect on climate change, and achieves this through unexpected devices in the plot.  But it isn’t a polemic; there’s much else going on that reflects aspects of the human condition.  It takes a lot of concentration, and maybe should be seen twice to fully appreciate the interacting dynamics of the score and the libretto.  Its portrayal of group dynamics might make it useful preparation for drafting risk assessments prior to expedition travel.

I enjoyed The Anthropocene, and I would go to see it again. Its premiere in Glasgow was followed by performances in Edinburgh and London, most over by the time you read this.  But keep an eye open for future performances, and see if you can buy a ticket.  I think I’d count it as valid CPD.

Reviewed by David Manning

THE ANTHROPOCENE, SCOTTISH OPERA, Theatre Royal, Glasgow (24-26 Jan); King’s Theatre, Edinburgh (31 Jan-2 Feb); Hackney Empire, London (7-9 Feb). W: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/anthropocene/