By Bob Hicks
Just posted this essay, Galileo and the theocrats, like a circle ’round the sun, on Oregon Arts Watch. It’s an odd little rumination on Philip Glass, Portland Opera’s production of his chamber opera Galileo Galilei, and the drift of American and global politics toward rigidity and theocracy. Bad cultural drift, but good opera.
“Glass’s critics sometimes complain that the hypnotic repetitions of his music encourage listeners’ minds to wander. They’re right. But there’s attentive wandering and inattentive wandering, and when things work the way I suspect Glass wants them to the “checkout” stretches of an opera like Galileo Galilei are more like resonant doorways into parallel paths of contemplation. The music works on a subterranean level, freeing the receptive mind to explore fresh possibilities. That sort of openness to discovery, the kind of path that Galileo followed, is precisely what makes literalists nervous: If another idea becomes possible, what happens to what they believe? So the battle is joined: repress it, suppress it, stuff it back in the box.
“To protect itself from the fanatics, the world recants. But not really. Because facts are facts, elasticity beats rigidity, and things do circle around. You can hear it, if you listen, in the music.”
Galileo, drawing by Ottavio Leoni, 1624. Wikimedia Commons.