I'm not the biggest fan of John Adams' music. So I approached Lyric Opera's production of Doctor Atomic with a bit of apprehension. Yet it pleasantly surprised me.
At last I have found a work of Adams which I genuinely appreciate. His texture of orchestration and vocal lines are so rich in working together that they just can't be fully appreciated in one night's attendance. Indeed, while there are few operatic productions which I feel a sense of urgency to attend a second time, this is certainly one which has elicited such an effect.
As to the stage and plot production, itself, I found it worthy. In dealing with a topic where we essentially know the outcome, there is a challenge of making things especially interesting. In this work it was approached through delving into the human struggles and tensions of the time and individual personalities. Initially, I feared that this might be done tritely, in an oversimplified, almost idealistic or all too easily agendicized manner. Instead, it left me with an impression of genuineness as to the sincere challenges which we human beings experience when faced with such serious odds.
The final scene, itself, is breathtaking. A flurry of activity occurs as an extended countdown to the experimental test approaches. Then an eerie period of stillness -waiting, watching in uncertainty of the moment, yet knowing of history what is to come. Once the bomb is detonated, we will understand clearly that our world is now a different place. Who will live, who will die, what will the future hold for us as a society of mankind? Yet, the truly telling thing of remarkable power here was an extended silence which followed the final note. Even as darkness fell upon the stage, instead of the typical outburst of applause which might have immediately come at the end of most productions, an almost reverential, thoughtful period remained for several seconds... no one seeming to want to break it with what would now seem inappropriate claps. Perhaps this had something to do with it being a new work... was it truly over yet? Still, in many a case the excitement of an outstanding scene brings about eruption. Not here... only stillness which was spoke significant. Indeed, even after the first hands were put together and final bows, it was hard to move on to other things that evening. I would have liked to linger longer in quiet contemplation of the disturbing reality which was upon us.
Someone else who has seen the production commented to me that it is, "... difficult, but necessary." I might say, "challenging" rather than "difficult", but before Doctor Atomic closes it's January run at the Civic Opera House, you should not miss experiencing this necessary piece of important art. One which is so poignant in our contemporary time, when remembrance of the era is still living with us. But also a work which, surely, will last due to the topic's matter in history and the opera's timeless theme of human struggle.