IN an interview in the programme for Scottish Opera’s new production Anthropocene, which has its final Edinburgh performance this evening and is at London’s Hackney Empire at the end of next week, composer Stuart MacRae says that he appreciated the reaction of some people to his last work with librettist Louise Welsh, The Devil Inside.

“They said they weren’t sure they liked it until the following day. I thought that a real compliment, because it showed they’d been thinking about it.”

On that basis, MacRae won’t mind me returning to the territory I reviewed in Monday’s Herald. What I only touched on then was that, alongside the literal narrative of clashing egos and priorities aboard a research vessel called the Anthropocene stuck in the Arctic ice, the work is clearly a parable about our age, the Anthropocene, when humans are the dominant force on this small blue planet.

That a large section of the population is in thrall to the notion that this cannot be anything other than a good thing seems unarguable, so the questioning of it is an important artistic purpose. The dominance of figurative art, for example, is a retrogressive 21st century phenomenon. In painting and photography, portraiture has a profile as high as at any point in history. Public art has lost most of the diversity it had in the second half of the 20th century and is now almost exclusively concerned with the human form, whether generally representative, like the work of Andy Scott on the roads around my Clackmannanshire home and by the side of the M80 to Glasgow, or commemorating individuals like the recently unveiled Mary Barbour in Govan (by Andrew Brown) and Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scott again). The murals that have recently sprung up across Glasgow, again both generic and specific, are almost all figurative, as if other art has become unacceptable.

Opera review: Anthropocene at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow

In our rituals, too, a humanist ethos is becoming ubiquitous, most noticeably at weddings and funerals. There seems to be a widespread belief that this non-religious (anti-religious?) way of cementing and remembering is in some way neutral, when in fact it may, in its essence, be antithetical to what many of those who choose that option over a minister or priest actually believe. Humanism rejects the divine and supernatural, certainly, but replaces it with a belief in the superiority, the supremacy, of the human.

It is this that Anthropocene asks its audience to question, not just in the behaviour of the human characters (and yes, the journalist figure is as despicable as the loudmouth moneybags funding the expedition) but in adding the mystical character of Ice, sung by Jennifer France, who may not be human at all.

While our correspondent in The Herald letters page on Tuesday had a point about the production budget for the show being self-evidently a great deal less than we often see splashed out by Scottish Opera on the stage of the Theatre Royal for classics of the repertoire, the company could argue that the shoogly ladder and flimsy ice-box were emblematic of the precarious position of those who defend the human race as worthy custodians of the world and all its works.

So, to come to my own second thoughts on the piece. While the reservations I expressed about its final scene still stand, I think, for Anthropocene in terms of its surface narrative as a contemporary thriller, reading it as a parable for our times makes that closing ambiguity much more defensible. For how can Welsh and MacRae possibly know whether the human race is capable of its own rescue? What’s certain is that the confidence in humanity that gave birth to humanism has taken a thorough and deserved beating in the modern era.

Anthropocene is at King's Theatre, Edinburgh tonight and Hackney Empire, London on Thursday and Saturday February 9.