Between Worlds: the dangers of transforming 9/11 into stylised art

Between Worlds, Tansy Davies’s operatic dramatisation of 9/11, has prompted very mixed reactions since it opened at London’s Barbican. Critics have variously described it as “an orgy of tedious breast-beating”, said that it “tears at the heart” or dismissed it as “too respectful”. One commentator greatly admires the libretto whilst another thinks it “dire”. No consensus here.

But this wasn’t really a surprise. I’ve now seen it twice, and think it’s a considerable musical accomplishment in some ways. But nonetheless it brings to the fore bigger issues about how viable such operatic realism can be – and the appropriation of horrific events into art works for consumption.

The work can be considered an example of the “CNN opera”, in that it uses recent and newsworthy events or personalities for its setting and plot. The most notorious (and controversial) such work is probably John Adam’s Article source:

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