Tuesday is traditionally Society Night at the San Francisco Opera and it also tends to be one of the emptiest audiences of the week, which meant it was a good night to check out John Adams' new opera again, "Doctor Atomic."
I wrote a review of it for somebody else's blog called "The Standing Room," which is written by a local singer who is absorbing all the world's music right now in a young, gluttonous rush and writing absolutely beautifully about it. Check it out by clicking here.
"I saw "Doctor Atomic" for the second time, or rather listened to it since I spent most of Act One laid out on one of the (lumpy) settees at the back of the top balcony standing room. This was by choice, since there were a number of seats and hardly any other standees.
The opera started even better than I remembered it, the Varese homage really working and the opening chorus about energy and matter starting off dark and rhythmic. In fact, the entire first scene musically pumps with a propulsive Adams minimalist energy, but then it very purposefully stops for the long alternating solos (not a duet, except for one beautiful small section) between Oppenheimer and Kitty.
The third and last scene in Act One has a wonderful beginning but it sags badly and for too long in the middle, like General Groves' stomach. In fact, the scene of General Groves talking about his diet is about when I wanted to yell, "Cut!" and finally we got to the John Donne Oppenheimer aria that ends the act and it was better than when I'd seen it before. The movement by Finley was more naturalistic and beautiful and the singer has gotten to know the music, which is just plain gorgeous, and he brings it out.
I spent the first thirty minutes of Act Two eating dinner at home across the street from the opera house, but then returned to the segue from the Kitty/Pasqualita the Mexican Maid duet to the tenor singing about not being able to get to sleep. Act Two feels much more of a through-composed 80-90 minutes of music and it is ambitious as can be, but it certainly has its longeurs.
Thankfully, the last thirty minutes, starting with the weirdly beautiful stooping female chorus, is masterful and I even got off the damned settee and watched the stage and the beautiful lighting until it was completely dimmed."
The "Vishnu" chorus, pictured above, was a total kick and oddly out-of-place in the dark last hour of the opera. It was staged like something out of a Maria Montez film, though I'm not sure that was intentional.
The ending, however, involved some of James Ingalls' most masterful lighting work. And lord, this opera's music is disturbing.
Thankfully, today's music was a tonic, spent in rehearsals for Bellini's "Norma" and Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," both of which are premiering within the next couple of weeks.
The costumes are lavish in an insanely operatic way for this new production of "La Forza," and the brief ecclesiastical pilgrimage is going to be quite something.
Our favorite flagellant, by far, is the beautiful trapeze artist, Miss Cat, who knows how to drape herself over a cross.