In the modern world of mass communication we tend to fear natural disasters more, as media make us perpetually aware of the sudden randomness with which they occur. This leaves us to come up with new terms for new fears, like the word “seismophobia” for the fear of earthquakes. John Adams’s work centers on an earthquake that hit the LA area in 1994. This single moment changes the lives of all the major characters. This includes Dewain, an unjustly accused prisoner who contemplates but ultimately rejects the possibility of escape after the walls of his cell collapse. Adams and librettist June Jordan gave their work the unusual label of “Songplay” both to distinguish it from Classical opera, and to de-familiarize listeners expecting a musical.