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

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 22nd October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Tosca in San Francisco

Yet another Tosca is hardly exciting news, if news at all. The current five performances have come just two years after SFO alternated divas Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role.

Antonin Dvořák: The Cunning Peasant (Šelma Sedlák)

What an enjoyable opportunity to encounter Dvořák’s sixth opera, Šelma Sedlák¸or The Cunning Peasant!

Idomeneo, Royal Opera

Whether biblical parable or mythological moralising, it’s all the same really: human hubris, humility, sacrifice and redemption.

Donizetti’s Les Martyrs — Opera Rara, London

Opera Rara brought a rare performance of Donizetti’s first opera for the Paris Opera to the Royal Festival Hall on 4 November 2014, following recording sessions for the opera.

Luca Pisaroni in San Diego

Bass baritone, Luca Pisaroni, known to opera lovers throughout the world for his excellence in Mozart roles, offered San Diego vocal aficionados a double treat on October 28th: his mellifluous voice, and a recital of German songs.

La bohème, ENO

Jonathan Miller’s production of La bohème for ENO, shared with Cincinnati Opera, sits uneasily, at least as revived by Natascha Metherell, between comedy and tragedy.

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall - Liszt, Strauss and Schubert

Any Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau performance is superb, but this Wigmore Hall recital surprised, too. Boesch's Schubert is wonderful, but this time, it was his Liszt and Strauss songs which stood out. This year at the Wigmore Hall, we've heard a lot of Liszt and a lot of Richard Strauss everywhere, establishing high standards, but this was special.

Wexford Festival 2014

The weather was auspicious for Wexford Festival Opera’s first-night firework display — mild, clear and calm. But, as the rainbow rockets exploded over the River Slaney, even bigger bangs were being made down at the quayside.

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

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):