Atomic

I’ve just spent two hours transcribing a fifteen minute segment of Newsnight Review featuring an interview with John Adams and a roundtable discussion with Jeanette Winterson, Tom Service and Paul Morley. Frenzied argument is not easy to decipher at speed.

Doctor Atomic just seems to get people worked up.

Quoth the composer:

“I often say that next to abortion and gun control, there’s no better way to get people shouting at each other than opinions of opera. You know, all you have to do if you want a dose of toxicity is to go on the blogs and read what people’s opinions are of Doctor Atomic.”

I’ll be spewing no toxicity here.  I enjoy Adams’ musical style and I find Doctor Atomic really moving.

The opera is set in Los Alamos, during the Trinity test of the atom bomb in 1945. It particularly focuses on the inner turmoil of Robert Oppenheimer, ‘father of the atomic bomb’. He was a very interesting man. Aside from being a talented physicist he also had a keen interest in poetry and may have once tried to kill one of his tutors at university with a poisoned apple.

From the Newsnight segment I also discovered that my arch nemesis Jeanette Winterson* cried three times in Doctor Atomic.  I did not cry three times.  But I was very moved by Gerald Finley’s stunning aria at the end of the first act ‘Batter my Heart’ (probably the best known piece in the opera) and the last fifteen minutes of the second act where Adams drags out the final countdown to the test explosion.

I was lucky enough to see Doctor Atomic in its first season in San Francisco in 2005.  I believe that the piece has been revised since then, but I didn’t notice any substantial changes.

This was a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York and aside from Gerald Finley (who according to something I read recently has played Oppenheimer in every staging of this opera to date), Meredith Arwady (Pasqualita) and Sasha Cooke (Kitty) are also continuing their roles from the Met.  You can read about how John Adams hid from Ninox behind a hedge at the Met here.

Doctor Atomic
John Adams

London Coliseum
28/02/2009.

*Winterson is not really my arch nemesis, I’m sure her novels are very good. But her quasi political rants about the transformative power of words are a bit earnest. I heckled one once. Very quietly.

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