Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dr. Atomic HD Broadcast

Doctor Atomic (Met Premiere) – Adams
Saturday, November 8, 2008 (1:00 pm ET)

Alan Gilbert
Penny Woolcock

Edward Teller - Richard Paul Fink
J. Robert Oppenheimer - Gerald Finley
Robert Wilson - Thomas Glenn
Kitty Oppenheimer - Sasha Cooke
General Leslie Groves - Eric Owens
Frank Hubbard - Earle Patriarco
Captain James Nolan - Roger Honeywell
Pasqualita - Meredith Arwady

I went to this broadcast to check out the production, which is different from the Peter Sellars one I saw here in San Francisco in 2005. The main scenic elements in the Met production are a 4-story wall of human-sized pigeon holes & a mountain range made from a huge suspended cloth. The wall is meant to remind us of the periodical table of elements. Chorus members representing workers at Los Alamos frequently appear in the compartments. At the end of the opera the walls lean forward dangerously, representing the destructive force of the atomic blast.

Both productions feature an accurate reproduction of the bomb itself which hangs ominously over the action. I find it amazing that the actual device looked so jury-rigged.

Gerald Finley is completely at home in the role of Oppenheimer. The highlight of the performance is his intense delivery of the soliloquy "Batter My Heart" at the end of Act I. I also liked Eric Owens in the comic role of the dieting General. Sasha Cooke looked beautiful & glamorous even in extreme close-up.

I still have my doubts about this opera. The libretto is a collage of documentary texts & poems, but it doesn't add up to a dramatic whole. I quickly tired of the weather reports. The Pasqualita character who wanders through Act II feels tacked on. The Act II scenario is thin, being a drawn-out count-down. I often hear Dr. Atomic referred to as a Faust story, but I'm not convinced. I don't know what the central conflict is supposed to be.

I still like much of the music, especially the lyrical Act I scene between Oppenheimer & Kitty, & of course the soliloquy that closes Act I. The music at the end of Act II builds palpable tension & suspense. The pre-recorded sound effects that begin each act make me listen in a different way, so that the entrance of the live orchestra comes as a shock. I was glad that the broadcast translated the recorded Japanese that closes the opera. Now I finally know how it ends!

It did seem like there were more younger people at this screening than usual. I hope that's a reflection of John Adam's popularity. It's impressive how quickly Dr. Atomic has gotten picked up by other houses. It has been done in San Francisco, Amsterdam, Chicago & New York, all within 4 years.

There was a hiccup in the transmission during Act II, when the picture froze & we lost sound for a couple of seconds. It was scarier than the final scene when the bomb goes off.

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