Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Dr Atomic</em>: Santa Fe Opera
03 Aug 2018

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Dr Atomic: Santa Fe Opera

A review by James Sohre

Above: Dancers, Meredith Arwady (Pasqualita), Ben Bliss (Robert Wilson), and Tim Mix (Frank Hubbard)

Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018

 

Well for starters, could we please have the original production back? Or another version that manages to convey the menace and import of this disturbingly contemporary peril? The SFO team of collaborators promised much, delivered a good deal, but fell short of this important work’s shattering impact.

I am a great admirer of baritone Ryan McKinny. When he is ideally cast, I have heard him as a thrilling Dutchman or full-throated Jochanaan. The role of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer sadly does not play to his gifts. While Mr. McKinny was always engaged and highly musical, his handsome instrument just doesn’t have the easy, ringing top needed to succeed completely in the role. Ryan worked hard, earned my admiration, and always displayed the highest professional standards, but ultimately could not anchor the production as Oppenheimer should.

Conversely, Daniel Okulitch was in splendid, refulgent voice as General Leslie Groves, indeed I have never heard him sing better. The macho snarl in his cogent delivery made a powerful impression. Mr. Okulitch, too, was curiously miscast. The General is meant to be portly, indeed there is a lengthy, humorous “cake “ section about his having to watch his weight and diet. That makes little sense when the lean, handsome actor has made previous SFO shirtless appearances that had patrons scrambling for their binoculars.

Ryan McKinny (Robert Oppenheimer) and Andrew Harris (Edward Teller).jpg Ryan McKinny (Robert Oppenheimer) and Andrew Harris (Edward Teller). Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

Andrew Harris’ characterful, measured bass was a good fit for physicist Edward Teller. Meteorologist Frank Hubbard was exceedingly well served by Tim Mix’s steady, powerful baritone. Apprentice tenor Mackenzie Gotcher performed with distinction as Army Captain James Nolan. The always reliable, sweet voiced, stylish tenor of Benjamin Bliss (Robert Wilson) on this night sounded veiled on top. I think this may be the result of the Adams-mandated miking.

It is hard to judge opera singers’ true accomplishment when a sound mixer is in between. Mssrs. Okulitch, Mix, and Harris were least impacted, while the other men sounded tinny (especially handicapping McKinny). Having seen the original twice, I was never “aware” of the amplification as I was here. There is no one in this capable cast that wouldn’t have fared better without it. Happily, the ladies were not so afflicted.

Ben Bliss.jpgBen Bliss (Robert Wilson). Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

Julia Bullock was everything one could wish as she created a haunting, melancholy, determined Kitty Oppenheimer. Ms. Bullock’s shining, supple soprano is in complete service to creating a three-dimensional portrait of the hapless spouse. Her touching interpretation of “Am I in Your Light” was alone worth the trip. Her poignant legato phrases were matched in beauty by the urgent delivery of conversational passages. This was a triumphant role assumption by a young artist at the height of her powers and on the precipice of her stardom.

Meredith Arwady’s powerful, rich contralto always adds immeasurably to any show, and her secure reading of Pasqualita was no exception. Ms. Arwady left us wanting (much) more. The biggest star of the night might just have been the Young Apprentice opera chorus, meticulously groomed by chorus master Susanne Sheston. From the very first choral statements they served notice that they were here to make thrilling music, flawlessly articulated, and dramatically compelling. Their high caliber contribution would be welcomed at any opera house in the world.

Julia Bullock (Kitty Oppenheimer).jpgJulia Bullock (Kitty Oppenheimer). Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

The overall musical effect was variable. Early on in the night, after the second or third unsteady passage occurred, I trained my eye on conductor Matthew Aucoin. His stick technique was not what I expected for a score demanding such precision, but rather consisted of a loop of bobbing and waving. The experienced instrumentalists seemed sometimes to be not so much playing together as clinging together. Maestro Aucoin has obvious enthusiasm for the piece, but I urge that it be wedded to more accuracy with the baton.

It has to be reported that throughout Act I a torrential, violent thunder and lightening storm eclipsed any drama to be found on the stage, and some string players had to retire momentarily to preserve their instruments. That did not help, but also did not cause the imprecision in the ensemble.

The storm also caused any number of unintentional (and hearty) laughs. After a particularly loud thunderclap, Oppenheimer’s next line was: “What if it’s a dud?” There is much tense discussion about the weather in the waning pages of Act I, since it will impact the test and the potential spread of radioactive fallout. The actors were thwarted in increasing the dramatic stakes by constant titters at dialogue about unfortunate weather. But truthfully, well before Mother Nature intruded, the dramatic progression was already dampened.

Chorus SF Atomic.jpgSanta Fe Chorus. Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

David Gropman’s well-intended set design is dominated by the omnipresent “bomb,” in the guise of a suspended silver, reflective globe (think: a really really oversized Christmas ornament). Selected industrial set pieces are added and subtracted beneath it, and the ball tracks up and back, but what you see is all you’re going to get. Since all is revealed up front, there is no impending visual impact, never any unsettling “tease” about what this thing looks like and what it does.

A plus side is that the surface takes light well, and designer James F. Ingalls has made good attempts to make it look menacing, or at least colorful. I wish Mr. Ingalls had gone further in isolating key dramatic moments, especially Oppenheimer’s anguished aria, “Batter My Heart” which inexplicably left the hero on a fully lit, un-atmospheric stage.

Gabriel Berry’s costumes were period, correct, and awfully plain in their palette. The dancers were more fancifully attired, although Emily Johnson’s choreography was a puzzle to me. I am fine with the gestures not telling a story, but shouldn’t they at least reflect the music? In a critical, troubling, angular, unsettling musical bridge, the corps remained resolutely gently undulating.

Dancers.jpgDancers. Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

I am a fan of director Peter Sellars. He takes big risks and the result is often thrilling. But concepts that work brilliantly in one production, don’t always translate to another. The choral and solo gestures that he devised for Glyndebourne’s Theodora were illuminating and bewitching. The semaphoric gesturing in this Dr. Atomic bordered on being “Captioned for the Clinically Bewildered.” Mr. Sellars was at his best in the inter-relationships of the principals and the shifting choral formations, which almost made up for a good deal of distracting background filler of unmotivated crosses.

Whatever my reservations, I commend Santa Fe Opera for boldly scheduling such a difficult, important work this summer, for so diligently resourcing it, and for making it available for new audiences to partake of its glories.

James Sohre

John Adams: Doctor Atomic

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer: Ryan McKinny; Edward Teller: Andrew Harris; Robert Wilson: Benjamin Bliss; Kitty Oppenheimer: Julia Bullock; Pasqualita: Meredith Arwady; General Leslie Groves: Daniel Okulitch; Frank Hubbard: Tim Mix; Captain James Nolan: Mackenzie Gotcher; Conductor: Matthew Aucoin; Director: Peter Sellars; Set Design: David Gropman; Costume Design: Gabriel Berry; Lighting Design: James F. Ingalls; Sound Design: Mark Grey, Daniel Gower; Choreography: Emily Johnson; Chorus Master: Susanne Sheston

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):