Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dr. Atomic

I felt I should weigh in momentarily on the “big event” happening in San Francisco this weekend. John Adams’ newest opera, Doctor Atomic, opens on Saturday, recounting the hours before the first test of the atomic bomb that would end World War II. Oppenheimer and other Los Alamos physicists await the test at the facility, while the women in their lives wait at home, worrying and wondering how the world is about to change. After seeing firsthand what Peter Sellars can do with emotionally and politically charged topics, I have no doubt that this opera will be a profound experience for all who are lucky enough to see it.

Over a fabulous brunch with MC in Santa Fe last month, we talked about why this particular premiere is garnering so much attention. (Music blogs have been abuzz for months now.) We decided that the combination of subject matter, anticipation to see what John Adams will write next, Peter Sellar’s involvement (he wrote the libretto as well as directed), and a few last-minute high-profile cast changes all serve to create an intriguing project that has everyone wishing they could be there Satuday night.

Now that I think about it, there are two other opera premieres that are in the spotlight right now: Margaret Garner at Michigan Opera Theater this past May (and An American Tragedy at the Met in December (not to mention Ainadamar this summer). (Margaret Garner is being staged this season by both Opera Carolina and the Opera Company of Philadalphia, providing the crucial "second" performances for a new work. Composers often say that it's easy to get new works performed once; it's getting them programmed again that's the struggle.) Could this be a sign of a renewed interest in new opera, and, therefore, in opera in general? Exciting times…

For more detailed coverage on this important new work, visit these sites.
*The San Francisco Opera’s Dr. Atomic site
*A great collection of Dr. Atomic Links at aworks.
*Alex Ross has put together a fabulous photojournal at The Rest is Noise. Pick up a copy of this week’s New Yorker for his article on the opera, written on an ironing board in a hotel in San Francisco…
*Thoughts from TSR during his New Mexico visit.
*Preview and links to articles at Ionarts
I know there are more. If you have something to add, leave it in comments and I’ll put it in.

7 comments:

Sarah said...

Tommy Glenn!! I worked with him at FSU. Great voice and lots of fun. He used to come by my office and sing swears to me . . . not the type of behavior one would expect from a nice Mormon boy. Good for him! He deserves it.

Ariadne said...

Tomorrow, in honor of the premiere, I'm going to re-post my predictions on the work on my blog.

ps Can't help but wonder what those rehearsals were like, with all the substitutions!

SJZ said...

Definitely true about it hard for composers to get second performances. I'm not sure, but I think the two further performances of 'Margaret Garner' are part of the consortium that commissioned the work. I believe they're sharing some costumes and sets. Still, consortiums are a great way to ensure that a work is heard more than once. Love your blog by the way. Good luck on all those auditions!

ACB said...

SJZ, yes, I think you're right. And I agree, consortiums are fantastic ideas. They assure more exposure for the new work and help spread the costs of the production around. Good for all involved. Another example of this is Rachel Portman's Little Prince, I think. The same production has been mounted all over the country. It's nice to see companies working together like that!

Ariadne said...

Over at ionarts (ionarts.blogspot.com) they've nearly got me convinced that the financial, legal and union issues virtually spell "doom" for operas, especially new ones, and most especially for broadcast or tv as a venue.

You all seem to have more hope. That's really encouraging!

Heather said...

I only wish you could have been there, ACB. It would have been fabulous fun!

Anonymous said...

Consortiums are great for getting new works seen more then once. The next step they need to take, however, is making sure that the piece has room to evolve. The Little Prince is a good example. Right now, it is a nice piece, but it could really use some work, particularly in the second act. But that work will not happen until the presenting companies not only insist, but also put up the money for those changes to happen. That is what a second go at a new work should be about, solving the problems of the piece and making it stronger.

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