April 6, 2008
And now for something completely different
Taking a welcome break from politics, I recently wrote an article previewing The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, a contemporary opera based on Captain Cook's voyages to the Pacific. That sounds like a rather dreary entertainment featuring a lot of men in wigs and tight trousers singing jolly sea shanties. However, this opera, by the US-based New Zealand composer Matthew Suttor, was based on a book by the anthropologist Anne Salmond, who made a point of exploring both how Cook changed the Pacific, and how the Pacific changed Cook. Rather than merely fetishizing Cook as the model of an enlightenment explorer, she looks at some of the Pacific Islanders who boarded ships for England and did a considerable amount of exploring on their own.
This was a very interesting project to research, because Suttor found a lot of historical documents relating to Cook's travels at the British Museum in New Haven. My personal favorite was A Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook, to Which Are Added Some Particulars Concerning His Life and Character and Observations Respecting the Introduction of Venereal Disease into the Sandwich Islands. They just don't write titles like they used to.