Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Dr. Atomic Lacks a BANG!

The explosion of an atomic bomb or any bomb for that matter should have opened with a resounding “BAM”! Or at least a “BANG” some form of explosion because no adjective would rightly do it justice. Regrettably, this was most not the case at John Adam’s and Peter Sellers new contemporary opera “Dr. Atomic”.
The beauty of Met opera house overshadowed the poker stiff soldiers and officials at either wings of the stage and officials that compromised the introduction of the opera. Straight spined, they were as appealing to the viewer as ordinary school choir and just as simple. An atomic bomb releases a massive amount of energy but it was not the case with the singers and this led to their less than convincing performances. The singers were stationary and according to one viewer the beginning could simply be categorized as “flat”.
The set was by far one of the saving graces of this opera. Julian Crouch, head set designer captured in literal puns the restraints of the scientists and nature of the bomb. The scientists feverishly scribble cryptic equations throughout the course of the opera. They are literally very much isolated even though they are both trying to achieve the same goal, divided by two seven by three wooden blocks set together like a beehive. This is historically correct. Scientist worked as busily as bees in a beehive, very much blocked off from each other and each specialized at their own field. It was part of the governments efforts to keep this a secret although as one character jokingly observed, “all you need to do is follow the trail of beer cans”.
Although the characters themselves like J. Robert Oppenheimer and even the scientists are unsure of the success of the bomb, the music is melancholy from the start ironically foreshadowing the destruction the audience already knows is coming. Most of the music held on to deeper notes perhaps to compliment Gerald Finley’s ever-rich baritone. However is certainly set a tone of gloom and despondency. Finley’s intense character complimented his workaholic demeanor and slouched pork pie hat. He contrasts and appropriately compliments Kitty Oppenheim played by adequate mezzo- soprano Sasha Cooke. Attention deprived, she drowns her sorrows with alcohol and poetry and for the most part she lounges and stands at the foot of her bed and repeatedly reproaches her husband’s absences.
These inevitable absences and fears are all literally all overshadowed by the silver orb with contraptions that is the bomb. Dr. Atomic is overshadowed by the fact that the introduction was less than explosive rendering even the curtains lifting up and the bright light of a split atom anti-climactic.

1 comment

1 Anna { 11.15.08 at 11:34 pm }

I agree with you in that I also expected a BANG from the explosion of the bomb. The set was indeed this opera’s saving grace as it did historically perceive the isolation and chaos of each individual working in the wooden cubicles. Well done, Katie!