22 November 2008

Doctor Atomic

John Adams' Doctor Atomic Friday night at the ASO. At times moving and difficult. Here's a PDF of John Adams' notes from the program.


Partial-staging with the orchestra arrayed normally, pushed a little to the front, raised platforms for the singers positioned at the center and leading to the back, and the choir split at the back left and right dressed in khakis and muted pullover shirts. Stage platforms had Oppenheimer's desk at the center and two living-room chairs to the left. Opens with recorded sounds--40s radio, people talking, misc. shortwave-type noises--segueing into the choir intoning the physics of the bomb (matter can neither be created nor destroyed). Supporting them, descending scales shared across the orchestra. Bombs falling on Japanese cities. I know Adams' Nixon in China, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and the cathartic On the Transmigration of Souls. Music for Doctor Atomic was, at times, as chaotic and difficult as the latter but with arias as beautiful as those from Nixon in China. Singers were dressed as they would be for a full performance and acted out the scenes within the minimal staging.

Atomic intermission. on TwitPic

The opera brought out the drama of the history. The psychological pressure that was killing the scientists, the social responsibility, the uncertainty over how and if they were destroying the world.

Act I ends with the passionate, blues-influenced, charged aria "Batter my heart, three person'd God" based on a John Donne poem. Video with the full aria (taken from gab1279's YouTube group):

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason yhour viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely'I love you, and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie:
Divorce mee, untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

(note the suggestion of the verse harmonies within the interstitial staccato sections)

Much of note: Clever syncopation, the rhythmic skill is astonishing and new. Many examples of how music doesn't have to be derivative. The orchestra was often chaotic behind the singers. Getting the recording (when it becomes available) after watching the performance is mandatory. I would love to see a full staging; there is much drama that could be amplified. The other videos from that group:

"What Benevolent Demon"

"Am I in Your Light?"

"The Motive of It All"

"Long Let Me Inhale Deeply"

"The Countdown"

[ posted by sstrader on 22 November 2008 at 7:23:33 PM in Music ]