“What Next?” Carter’s first opera, written in 1997 and 1998, begins with a car crash and follows, obliquely, the development of six survivors crawling from the wreckage. The chain of events has a dreamlike quality. “The survivors are five adults and a child. Mama (a dramatic soprano) is the most insistent of them: as she understands things, the adults were all on their way to the marriage of her son, a clownish baritone who calls himself Harry or Larry, to Rose, a self-absorbed performing artist (a lyric soprano). The glib guru-like tenor Zen is Mama’s former husband, and the astronomer Stella (a contralto) is his current girl friend. The sixth figure, Kid, a twelve-year-old boy alto, is a mystery to Mama, who repeatedly tries to focus everyone’s attention on their joint predicament. While the others generally concede that Mama’s assessment of their relationships may be correct, they have other agendas. Zen seeks to maintain his status as ‘a teacher, a master.’ Rose doesn’t really care who the others are; she is still grooving on the triumph of her last performance, and expects the others to be similarly appreciative. Stella thinks she was on her way to work at her astronomical observatory. Harry or Larry doesn’t care. Eventually, two Road Workers arrive and poke around in the percussive wreckage, initially ignoring the importuning of the crash victims, who finally walk away, still disputatiously engaged.”(David Hamilton, in the CD booklet notes).
“Carter's music, from the opening crash of the prelude, remains active throughout the entire single act - in the spasms and splinterings of the percussion, where the coalescing of the sounds are continually being torn asunder again... So the central interlude of the work provides a great surprise: the lost characters abandon the stage, the dreamlike scenery becomes even more unreal, the wrecked car seems to explode in slow motion. Here Carter suddenly develops, in extraordinarily skilfully constructed music, a powerful sense of poetry, whose magic is sustained through soft sounds and melodic lines. It is the sound of transformation...” Wolfgang Schreiber, Süddeutsche Zeitung