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April 2000
 
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The Voyage: an Opera by Phillip Glass (1992)

Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to premiere on the Columbus quintencentary, 10/12/92, the opera ran for seven or eight performances in that season, was brought back three seasons later for another seven or eight and has apparently been dropped from the repertory. Its prologue (sung by a figure in a wheelchair meant to represent Stephen Hawking) and three acts deal with three voyages: 1) Spacefaring aliens land on Earth in a prehistoric past and are greeted by primitive Earth natives who greet them as transcendent figures; 2) Columbus, deep in dream as his ships sail West, dreams of Queen Isabella urging him on and declares his (sexual) love for her; 3) the aliens, millennia later, now "space children" in a highly evolved technology, prepare to return to their planet of origin, reclaim their heritage and their destiny.

It is the true science fiction opera, with the arguable exception fo the metaphoric and metaphysical Anniara probably the only science fiction opera; the stunning first act finale---all tom-tom and ostinato and Patricia Schuman, the alien captain, tearing out her throat in stopped vowels and the aural equivalent of strobe lighting---is overwhelming. "For God's sake, listen to this," I said to Robert Silverberg, calling him in California (the opera was broadcast from the stage on one-hour delay), "It's finally happened, they've put what you and I dreamed when we were 13 on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center on national broadcast. It's Simak, it's Heinlein, it's Chad Oliver made whole." Silverberg caught the second and third acts but was rightfully unimpressed; nothing in the opera ever gets back to the power of the first act and its finale. Doesn't much matter; in those 45 minutes Glass and his librettist, David Henry Hwang, give us Astounding's early 1940s in full and desperate cry.

I made a tape at the time (and the opera was broadcast again in 1995) but to the best of my knowledge no commercial recording exists. I await correspondence from some devoted reader angrily correcting me. If I am correct, it is a shame. Impeach that shame, Sony recording division. Golden age: return!

—Barry N. Malzberg

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