Shocking Opera: a new manifesto

April 2, 2011

New opera is too safe. Even Thomas Adès’ end-of-the-pier blowjob bored me. Ninety years earlier, I am sure that Strauss’ Salome shocked people more than Powder Her Face ever did – though admittedly the Adès’ probably has a greater sense of fun. But have you seen contemporary opera in Britain and been shocked, unnerved, outraged, or even just a little pissed off? Probably not; I haven’t. All the other contemporary arts have had anarchic movements and anti-establishment manifestos, from Futurism to Dadaism to the ‘Post Porn Modernist Manifesto’. But not opera. New opera still seems shackled to the corpse of the old; “dead, repetitive, predictable, pretty”, according to Robert Thicknesse in The Guardian. Most modern art rails against conservatism; is new opera its last bastion?