Darwin & Dawkins & Twain: Richard Dawkins to Star in Contemporary British Opera May 23, 2014

Darwin & Dawkins & Twain: Richard Dawkins to Star in Contemporary British Opera

Would you, by any chance, be interested in a story about

… “religious murder, deception, corruption, superstition, genocide, and a mysterious stranger who leads a lad away from it all to start a life of secular compassion”?

If so, try to catch Mysterious 44, a modern opera based on Mark Twain‘s unfinished novel The Mysterious Stranger.

Inspired by the writings of Darwin, Twain’s story is set in 1490, a few decades after the invention of Gutenberg’s press and the start of the Renaissance. Three boys are approached by a mysterious stranger who calls himself “44” after a wrongly-accused woman is stoned to death. Like the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the stranger sparks self-realization, and one boy steps forward to question superstition and religion.

The brand new opera, based on Twain’s incomplete book, was written by Dr. Kevin Sorbo Malone, a University of Manchester lecturer in composition. One of the stage personalities will be none other than Richard Dawkins, and we’re told that he has a singing (or speaking?) part.

Dr. Malone wrote the narrative, libretto and music for Mysterious 44, which lasts 90 minutes and will be premiered to celebrate the launch of Manchester Opera Project — an organization devoted to the development of new opera…

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has awarded a grant to film the show for dissemination to schools and to be made available on YouTube.

Dr. Malone said: “Although it is not meant as an antireligious opera, it does argue for an approach to understanding the world which is based on science and reason, over superstition. That is why I’m so delighted that Richard Dawkins, one of the country’s most influential atheists, is taking part.”

Malone told the Guardian that Dawkins was his first choice for the role.

“My only choice. He’s the voice of modern, rational society — calm, gently authoritative without being authoritarian, knowledgeable, very warm.”

I don’t personally associate the author of The God Delusion with gentleness and warmth (at all), but of course Malone and Dawkins deserve the benefit of the doubt. When the opera hits YouTube and we can all hear for ourselves whether Dawkins has vocal talents to match his literary ones, we’ll report it here.

***Update***: A clip from the opera confirms that Dawkins has a speaking role:

(Opera singer image via Shutterstock; Dawkins head swap by Terry Firma.)

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