Sunday, March 16, 2014

Or Shall We Die? A libretto by Ian McEwan (signed first edition)


Although my wife and I have been taking about it for years, this week marked our first visit to the Met Opera. We saw Massenet's Werther (based on a Goethe short story), which featured an other-worldly performance by tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Previously, I hadn't had much exposure to opera, but some of the more curious lateral connections I've had to the medium have been publications of librettos by authors I like. I posted long ago on Ian McEwan's "For You" and thought this might be an appropriate time to feature my signed first edition of 1983's "Or Shall We Die?":


"Or Shall We Die?" features a lengthy introduction by Ian McEwan which can almost be appreciated as an independent essay. The text deals with the then-current political climate and fear of an exacerbating Cold War, as well as a direct discussion of how to approach composing a meaningful oratorio. The introduction's poignancy is compounded once the reader gets to McEwan's libretto: his themes are masterfuly reduced into tightly metered lines:

"On countless planets that power locked in
matter is traced to larger patterns,
the measurements resume in wonder.

But lesser forms, intent on conquest,
helplessly construct the means of their destruction,
and then must face a simple test of wisdom.

CHORUS
Shall we pass, or shall we die?"

This book is particularly rare to find in hardcover and in fine condition -- I made some compromises by purchasing one with a diamond shaped stain of sticker residue, but I think it only cost me around $5.00. At an event last year for Sweet Tooth, I brought this and a few other early McEwan collections to get signed.




Currently reading:
Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus

Currently listening to:
"Do to the Beast" by The Afghan Whigs






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