Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson

On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

In a scene from Act I of the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season, Robert Oppenheimer (Gerald Finley, l.) and Edward Teller (Richard Paul Fink, r.) confer in a Los Alamos laboratory. Photo by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago.
20 Jan 2008

John Adams' Doctor Atomic in Chicago

John Adams, whose opera Nixon in China set the bar for post-minimalism in the lyric theatre, has once again scored a success with his latest work.

Above: In a scene from Act I of the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season, Robert Oppenheimer (Gerald Finley, l.) and Edward Teller (Richard Paul Fink, r.) confer in a Los Alamos laboratory. Photo by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

 

Doctor Atomic, now making its second appearance in North America at Lyric Opera of Chicago after a successful premier in San Francisco, has at its core the sound that we have come to expect from a work bearing Adams’ autograph, but the composer has expanded his sonic language, embracing an approach that straddles a very delicate compositional line: Adams, unlike many of his contemporaries, is able to be at once harmonically complex and accessible. The dense score is simultaneously engaging and tuneful.

The drama of the opera concerns itself with the work of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team at the test site of the first atomic bomb outside Los Alamos, New Mexico during the days leading up to the first detonation. Tensions build as the test approaches and conditions become less and less favorable. Oppenheimer and his staff consider the implications of their work and the strong possibility that their labor and calculations could end in folly.

The role of Oppenheimer, sung exquisitely by Gerald Finley, begs the ethical scientific questions of the first half of the 20th century. First, is a mastery of science reason enough to employ the laws of nature to destructive ends? And, additionally, if we respect the dignity of life, what are the criteria we use to decide when the time has arrived to employ devastation on such a large scale? Adams paints with broad strokes well suited to operatic characters. Acquiescing to the commands of those more powerful than he and arguing that morality has no place in a lab, Oppenheimer struggles to convince himself that he is not responsible for the global annihilation of which his “gadget” is capable. Conflicted but moving ever forward, Finley’s Oppenheimer is representative of humanity itself. Finley’s end of act one tour-de-force soliloquy “Batter my Heart” is a crystallization of this dramatic idea.

On opposite sides of the allegorical spectrum, Robert Wilson and Richard Teller respectively oppose and condone the experiment. Thomas Glenn handles the vocally demanding role of Robert Wilson securely in spite of its relentlessly high tessitura. Glenn’s characterization is appropriately urgent, as he eloquently implores Oppenheimer and the rest of the team to petition Washington to stand down on the attack until the Japanese have been given clear terms of peace. Richard Paul Fink’s characterization of Teller is chillingly laissez-faire, his matter-of-fact delivery as frightening as the bomb itself, which hangs overhead throughout the entire performance.

As Kitty Oppenheimer, Jessica Rivera provides an attractive foil to a mostly male cast. Her warm tones bring true beauty to “Am I in your light”, and her mastery of the angular, cross-registral lines show the singer off to great success. If Meredith Arwady’s vocal line is not as smooth as one might have hoped, her portrayal of Pasquelita is characterized by a rich and booming contralto. A member of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center, Ms. Arwady’s career is definitely one to watch.

Under the leadership of Donald Nally, the ensemble gives an effective, moody opening chorus and provides commentary throughout. The sense of ensemble is sure, and the musicianship unfaltering and clear. The corps de ballet, however, does not fare as well. Lucinda Childs’ choreography was abstract and moving, and it provided a great deal of much appreciated spectacle, but it is, unfortunately, executed somewhat weakly by the dancers, who seemed on several occasions dangerously off-balance. Peter Sellars’ compiled libretto is serviceable but suffers under comparison to the brilliant work of Alice Goodman, who prepared the incomparable text for Nixon in China. Sellars’ choice of texts for arioso moments, which range from the metaphysical and symbolist poets to the Bhagavad-Gita is wise, saving the director-librettist from foisting upon the composer the unhappy task of setting less lyrical texts for critical emotional moments. Sets by Adrianne Lobel were industrial and functional, helping the drama to continue along at an exciting pace.

Highest praise, however, must be extended to conductor Robert Spano, who finds the logic of the fascinatingly overwhelming score. Under his baton, Lyric’s orchestra makes sense of the polyrhythmic undulations and pan-tonal implications of the work.

Doctor Atomic is an important addition to the operatic canon. The evening continues the Adams-Sellars collaborative tradition of socio-political examination of definitive moments of modern history, and as such, is perhaps not as narratively satisfying as traditional nineteenth century opera to less experienced theatre-goers. Though it is not overwrought, this evening of theatre is operatic, and this sentiment can be found in the cardinal expression of the human heart in ethical conflict with itself. This anxiety is not particular to modernism, but its application in Doctor Atomic is extremely timely and makes for a thoroughly entertaining evening. Those who attend hoping for stage pyrotechnics and a “big bang” will be disappointed, but those who attend looking for distilled ethical conflict will leave more than satisfied.

Gregory Peebles © 2008

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):