Sunday, October 02, 2005

"Doctor Atomic" opened last night.

It's the new Adams opera about the invention of the first atomic bomb. Alas, one critic is disappointed: there's only one stunning aria, one moment of greatness. He wants two or three! He likes this:
"At the end of Act I, after all the discussions of wind and weather, the chance of widespread radiation exposure around the test site at Alamogordo, and the concomitant health risks (tissue disintegration, bone cancer), Oppenheimer is alone. He walks, hobbled, toward the bomb, which is suspended above the stage and bathed in white light, and sings Adams' setting of John Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV: `Batter my heart, three person'd God.'

"'. . . Knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand,' Finley sings. A mesmerizing baritone and compelling actor, he beat his chest with each declaration of ``knock.'' He fell to his knees, begging God `to break -- blow -- burn and make me new.' And the music! It is passacaglia-like, tinged with Jewish ritual lamentation and despair. The orchestra's stuttering figures, its tremulous chords and rumbling drums, said everything one needed to know about Oppenheimer's inner state.

"It is in the orchestra that the action really happens; mostly, it forms a steady, edgy undertow to everything on stage. Adams drew inspiration from Varese (sirens, machine sounds) and Stravinsky (his wartime news-alert music). But his concoction is different: Metallic shards of sound seem to take us inside an atom smasher. There are fizzings, blasts, punched and squeezed chords; tremulous and creepy-crawly strings; flashes and groans of brass; piston-fired rhythms that grow thick, plastic, frantic; and icy sound environments that seem to float, eerily. Where are we now? Inside the atom? Or a scientist's hallucinating brain?"
We are Adams fans. We can't wait to see, or hear, this work...


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