Art | The Reconnoisseur

Who needs meditation, when an opera can do the trick?

The mystic force of a master composer

Who needs meditation, when an opera can do the trick?

Image: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis

August 04 2010
Julian Allason

Meditation can be hard work – at least to less than diligent westerners such as I. “It is a matter of perseverance,” the Himalayan Rishi insisted as I struggled – and failed – to achieve lotus posture. Costly, too: the TM people demanded a week’s salary to teach a freely available mantric technique. In Japan it was even worse, with the Zen master whacking somnolent students with a cane. As for Kundalini meditation: I was too alarmed even to start, what with the prospect of the serpent force shooting up through the chakras and out of the top of my head. Happily I have now discovered a low-effort solution closer to home.

When the American composer Philip Glass (pictured) detonated his first opera, Einstein on the Beach, at the Met in 1976, critics were nonplussed by the strange, repetitive rhythms. The 1984 premiere of Akhnaten, an “art” opera based on the life of the pharaoh who deconstructed the entire mythological system of ancient Egypt, alarmed classical purists even more. One authority described it as “singing archaeology”. But the word in psychological circles was of the calming effect of the minimalist music on hyperactive patients. Passively directing the attention to the hypnotic sound might, it was proposed, lead to the generation of alpha rhythms, brain waves associated with deep relaxation achieved by experienced meditators and yogis.

A mystic mystery for sure – but it works for me. Try Akhnaten, Act III Scene 1, The Family, and be refreshed.

See also

Music, Opera