March 7, 2019 / 3:37 PM / 9 months ago

Futuristic 'Frankenstein' opera poses timely questions about human nature

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - With futuristic stage designs, cutting-edge video inserts and industrial noise blended with operatic arias, “Frankenstein” premieres in Brussels on Friday, posing timely questions about ethics, technological progress and creating artificial life.

Based on Mary Shelley’s eponymous 19th century novel, the opera by U.S. composer Mark Grey is set in a dystopian, post-industrial future, where scientists discover the frozen Creature and bring it back to life.

As the Creature relives its hopes and torments among human beings on a stage set marked by geometric lines and sharp colors, the opera moves away from the classic 1931 Hollywood adaptation of the gothic novel that created the pop culture symbol of a monster.

Instead, it turns its focus to what makes a human and what constitutes people’s responsibility for their increasingly-advanced creations.

“We’re looking more into the psychology of the work - why the Creature is cast out, why there is discrimination against the Creature, and why the Creature ultimately kills because of its animal instinct to survive,” Grey told Reuters.

Librettist Julia Canosa said the issues that “Frankenstein” tackles are especially relevant for developing artificial intelligence and grappling with its social impact.

“Today we are talking about a new species of not humans perhaps but humanoids, cyborgs, and, like the Creature, are they going to raise the question of identity?” she said.

“Are they going to be granted rights and dignity, and would they pay taxes?”

The visually-arresting spectacle is no less modern in terms of the music, which combines brutal noise, screaming and heavy drums with traditional operatic arias to express the discrimination the Creature faces among people.

Belgium’s 300-year-old La Monnaie opera house, recently reopened after a major renovation, will show “Frankenstein” through March.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Gareth Jones

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