"Ruinous Gods" and the Gatekeeping of Contemporary Opera
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Friday, July 19, 2024

"Ruinous Gods" and the Gatekeeping of Contemporary Opera
Striking a resonant chord, the thematic thrust of Spoleto Festival’s “Ruinous Gods” resonates with contemporary societal concerns such as American militarism, capitalist exploitation and societal apathy towards refugees. Photo: William Struhs.

CHARLESTON, SC.- Beneath opera’s bastion of tradition, a profound metamorphosis has been taking place over the past few decades — a resurgence characterized by audacious experimentation, narrative ingenuity, and a fervent plea for inclusivity. Contemporary opera is making way for a new wave of composers and works that challenge the status quo and redefine the boundaries of the art form.

From the musings of Kaija Saariaho’s “L’amour de loin” to George Benjamin’s “Written on Skin,” Missy Mazzoli’s “Breaking the Waves,” Mason Bates’ “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” and Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up In My Bones”, recent years have seen a proliferation of groundbreaking operas and visionary composers pushing the envelope of what opera can be.

Yet a contentious debate rises within the opera community amid this wave of artistic ferment — a clash between tradition and innovation, conservatism and progressivism. It’s against this backdrop that “Ruinous Gods” makes its debut, igniting fervent discussions and challenging entrenched notions of what opera should be. “Ruinous Gods”, the sole commissioned and featured opera of Spoleto Festival’s 2024 edition — likely a result of post-pandemic austerity measures — has proven to be a particularly intriguing work, provoking both rave reviews and critical backlash.

Created by Layale Chaker (music) and Lisa Schlesinger (libretto), “Ruinous Gods” delves into the harrowing realms of forced migration’s toll on children. Inspired by the recently discovered resignation syndrome, the opera navigates the dreamlike odyssey of H’ala (brought to life by a brave and passionate Teryn Kuzma), a refugee girl ensnared in a deep, unresponsive slumber. A Dante-esque Crow, portrayed by the equally mythical Karim Sulayman, guides her as she traverses an ethereal underworld, his spellbinding voice calling forth prophecies and revealing vulnerabilities. Along this surreal journey, she encounters fellow displaced children, each bearing the weight of their own traumas and losses.

An aspect meriting significant contemplation is the formal intricacy ushered in by the piece. Departing from the conventional operatic mold, Schlesinger’s writing eschews linear narrative chronology in favor of a deconstructed arc and invites audiences to partake in an intellectual and emotive journey that defies any easy categorization. The result is embodied by a surreal, Dali-esque landscape where characters wander in circles, ensnared in limbo while searching for a semblance of familiarity. A refreshing interplay between speech, half-spoken dialogue and enticing melodies infuse each sung moment with heightened purpose and significance.

Chaker’s fluid and dynamic score reveals a deep understanding of the fragmented nature of the storyline. Although the music employs elements of her Arabic music heritage, the composition creates a sonic no man’s land, evoking the feeling of navigating shifting sands and being lost in the meanders of the Inferno. Recurring motifs and leitmotifs balance a sense of being out of space and time with narrative cohesion. In moments of heightened drama, the writing shifts from lyrical melodies to unconventional harmonic progressions, intricate rhythmic patterns, textures and soundscapes that further contribute to the disorientation and emotional intensity, depicting the narrative’s emotional peaks and troughs. Moments of respite and stark contrasts are illuminated by superb a capella choral writing.

Institutions such as the Spoleto Festival are increasingly cognizant of the inevitable, much-welcome outcomes of inviting new and diverse composers to the stage. However, a palpable disjuncture persists between the aspirations for diversity and the readiness of the traditional opera community to embrace these transformative shifts fully. This dissonance is epitomized by the divergent responses to works like “Ruinous Gods.” Both praise and resistance encountered by this work are emblematic of a broader phenomenon prevailing within the world of opera. Traditional gatekeepers — critics, institutions, and entrenched audiences — often react defensively to works that so boldly challenge any status quo, in a space primarily dedicated to old-school entertainment. This resistance can manifest in scathing critiques that prioritize upholding entrenched norms over embracing the bold strides of innovative narratives and diverse voices.

One such review by Heidi Waleson in the Wall Street Journal serves as a prime example, as she grapples not only with the formal and musical innovation instigated by “Ruinous Gods” but with its political content as well. The review emphasizes a discomfort with what she perceives as “lecturing about weapons, American warmaking and the evils of capitalism” and hints at an underlying unease with the opera’s unapologetic confrontation of societal injustice, unfortunately on brand with the ossification of the art form.

Waleson’s denouement for the Wall Street Journal — “The traumas of migration and asylum are serious issues, but ‘Ruinous Gods’ is no help” — underscores the inherent challenge of critiquing works that challenge systemic injustices from a position of entrenched privilege, but also the urgent imperative for diversity within the realm of opera criticism itself.

Despite the opportunity to engage directly with narratives from artists who are themselves survivors or children of survivors, the critique chooses to prescribe to these survivors how they should articulate and express their traumas in a sanitized and acceptable manner. At a time when global crises such as the genocide in Gaza and the escalating waves of forced migration demand nuanced and empathetic engagement, the critical establishment remains ensconced within echo chambers of privilege.

Just as the art world endeavors to diversify its creators, the realm of opera criticism must undergo a profound metamorphosis. The clarion call resounds for a seismic shift in how we critique, discuss, and engage with art, particularly that emanating from diverse creators. The groundswell of visionary artists demands a critical establishment that is not only culturally attuned but also ethically grounded. The need for reviewers who possess the cultural competence, intellectual acumen, and unwavering commitment to dismantling systemic inequities cannot be overstated.

By challenging the gatekeeping tendencies entrenched within the opera domain and championing the cause of inclusive and politically engaged works, the opera community can chart a course towards a future where the art form resonates with the full spectrum of human experience and societal exigencies.

In embracing this journey, we honor the legacy of the past while paving the way for a vibrant and inclusive future — a future where “Ruinous Gods” and its ilk serve not as outliers but as heralds of a new era in opera, one defined by innovation, empathy, and the unyielding pursuit of artistic truth.

Today's News

June 10, 2024

Air Mail reports art-market abuses and inappropriate sexual behavior at Carpenters Workshop Gallery

Tom Wesselmann's fifth solo exhibition with Almine Rech opens in Paris

How an American dream of housing became a reality in Sweden

FloGris Museum celebrates 150 years of Impressionism

Regen Projects opens an exhibition by Matthew Barney

Andrea Marie Breiling's sixth solo exhibition with Almine Rech opens in Paris

mumok opens "Avant-Garde and Liberation: Contemporary Art and Decolonial Modernism"

Hales opens Chitra Ganesh's second solo exhibition with the gallery

A four-hour hotel review that is actually about so much more

Luminous domestic scenes address boundaries between public and private selves; gay identity and social norms

Exhibitions at Galerie Barbara Thumm bring together European and African artistic traditions

WIELS opens Alexis Blake's 'Crack Nerve Boogie Swerve: the archive'

William A. Anders, who flew on first manned orbit of the Moon, dies at 90

'Queenie' captures Black British womanhood, in its mess and glory

Pride Month 2024: An abundance of theater of all stripes

36 hours in Porto, Portugal

New publication explores the life, times, and challenging legacy of 19th century Canadian artist Paul Kane

Asian Cultural Council awards over $2 million in 2024 fellowships and grants

Kunstmuseum Den Haag exhibits a group of graphic works by Herman Gordijn

Eye Filmmuseum the first exhibition in the Netherlands of works by Albert Serra

Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu wins the Wynne Prize 2024

Olafur Eliasson's first solo exhibition in Turkey opens at Istanbul Modern

Everard Auctions presents estate-fresh paintings, furniture, sculpture and jewelry, June 25-27

David Kordansky Gallery announces representation of Chico da Silva

"Ruinous Gods" and the Gatekeeping of Contemporary Opera

Is BLS and CPR the same? Understanding the Differences

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful