John Adams: Doctor Atomic [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français) [Import]
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Contemporary opera composed by John Adams and directed by Peter Sellars. The story follows the work of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team of scientists at the test site of the first atomic bomb outside Los Alamos, New Mexico. As the first detonation approaches, tension builds and Oppenheimer and his team begin to struggle with the moral implications of their work.
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Gerald Finley - a singer I went nuts for as Papageno nearly 20 years ago, still has a marvelously appealing boyish handsomeness that suits this role to a tee. This could be the role of his career so far. The voice is in absolutely peak condition, one of the most beautiful baritones singing today (in my opinion) with a winning combination of brightness, mellowness, one of the most even-sounding vibratos of any singer today and a light rich quality that simply gleams. His body was made for the stage, moving with a relaxed athleticism, and knows how to strike a pose that hits you like a spotlight. In many regards, his intensity reminds me of another favorite singer of mine, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in that his gestures - while highly theatrical, seem germane, perfectly suited to the character - as though they could not be performed any other way. This is star quality that elevates a performance to greatness.
The most powerful moment for me remains the ending of the first act, Oppenheimer's brilliant prayer/aria "Batter my heart, three person'd God." I cannot watch this without tears pouring from first to last. The music itself is remarkable, but combined with Finley's voice, and passionate interpretation, the heightened sense of movement by Peter Sellars and the staging itself, it becomes nearly unbearable in its intensity and beauty. With the bomb behind a curtain, like some templed sacred object behind a veil, Oppenheimer slowly approaches the veil, then turns and falls, and repeats the a series of gestures, each time with increasing intensity rising, falling, beating his heart with fist, hands to his head, then again approaches the veil. Following the final verse, he enters the veiled room, left in silhouhette, his hand raised towards the object itself. It is one of the most beautifully powerful stagings of an aria I've experienced.
Richard Paul Fink is another of my favorite singers and his beautiful bass sound, remarkable diction and fine dramatic instincts make his portrayal of Teller as important as the central role of Oppenheimer, particularly in the first half. Jessica Rivera is simply amazing as Kitty Oppenheimer, her first aria "Am I in your light," as the couple is in bed, her husband trying to study, offers a stunning contrast to all of the music before it. Oppenheim gives up his reading, and responds to her, climbing over and gently caressing her with stanza from Baudelaire. It is a quiet, intimate and beautiful moment.
Eric Ownes offers a richly detailed, entirely believable performance as General Groves, expressing his frustrations, concerns, detailing his weight issues (complete with calorie counts!) in that gorgeous, sonorous baritone of his.
The remainder of the cast, James Maddalena, Thomas Glenn, Jay Hunter Morris, and particularly the oddly moving performance of Ellen Rabiner as Pasqualita, are all up to the same level as the central roles.
I have some issues with the staging, and could have easily been happier if Lucinda Childs' incessant choreography had but cut - by at least half. Some of it is highly effective, such as the angular, ritualistic movement out in the desert, but much of it appeared as though a rehearsal for the Jets and Sharks were taking place at the rear of the stage while an opera was going on.
The chorus of De Nederlandse Opera sings English about as well as any English speaking chorus, and the musical direction of Lawrence Renes with the Netherlands Philharmonic rises to the level of Adams' remarkable score.
If I've any gripe (outside of the unnecessary choreography) it would be one I've made of many live performance videos: no curtain calls or opportunity to see - and share in - the audience's reaction. This is a bad move in my opinion. I understand by the end of viewing this how emotionally drained a viewer can be - I was exhausted - but there were several thousand people cheering this and, apparently, an enormous ovation for the performers. I find it a bit rude as well not to allow these people who'd offered these intense, blazing performances for three hours of a difficult score, the opportunity to take a bow in our respective living rooms.
There are a bunch of extra features, mini documentaries, and interviews that make this an exceptional DVD purchase for anyone interested in the future of opera. A truly overwhelming operatic experience.
The cast of this video largely duplicates that of the premiere--
J. Robert Oppenheimer: Gerald Finley
Kitty Oppenheimer: Jessica Rivera
General Leslie Groves: Eric Owens
Edward Teller: Richard Paul Fink
Jack Hubbard: James Maddalena
Robert Wilson: Thomas Glenn
Captain James Nolan: Jay Hunter Morris
Pasqualita: Ellen Rabiner
Musical Director: Lawrence Renes
Stage Director: Peter Sellars
Finley, Owens, and Fink will also appear in the Met production. The DVD includes a detailed, helpful synopsis of the plot and an interview with director Peter Sellars.
The opera focuses on the personal and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters preceding the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico in 1945. Sellars prepared the libretto for the opera, which is compiled from various sources, including writings of atomic scientists and government officials; poetry by Baudelaire, John Donne,and Muriel Rukeyser; and the Bhagavad Gita. The result is profoundly thought-provoking and moving. Adams' music always fits the texts, whether scientific, political, romantic, or philosophical. The choreography features the gestures that we have come to expect from Sellars (although less distracting than in, say, his production of Handel's Theodora). The video "refines yet further the director's vision," writes Ross, "with close-ups giving emotional focus to those whirling tableaux" The singing and acting are first-rate. Overall, the production and its recording are musically and dramatically riveting.
The Met's production, directed by Penny Woolcock, is new and different but lacks the urgency of Sellars' original. My recommendation is to buy this recording right away.
I have the feeling the production is over played which sometimes disturbs and distracts. In addition, some of the close-ups (for the DVD) are over-dramatic veering the attention from the poetry and the music. The music and the lyrics are beautiful and strong enough. It doesn't need over-acting and distractions like people moving fast on the scene.
The last scene of first act is impressive, in particular when Oppenheimer silhouette raises his hand and finger to the "Gadget" (God?)... but there is no finger responding this time.
Remembering that all music (and opera) was once new, this DVD is recommended for all Opera lovers and enthusiasts.
Dr. Atomic is to me what opera is all about -- merging story with emotion and this opera packs big emotional kick.
My favorite extra, on disc 1, is the visual synopsis of opera allowing you to easily get to know all the characters.
I highly recommend it.
Sellars directed the DVD and has orchestrated this production to bring out the interplay among the characters and to capture intimate moments that could not be seen this way on stage.
At the same time, it captures the fleeting movements of the Lucinda Childs dancers among the scientists and workers and their last minute preparations for the Trinity test.