Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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“Doctor Atomic” Bombs

Trying to keep a positive attitude about the upcoming opera, as I walked into the Metropolitan Opera my perspective drastically changed.  Earlier in the week, I was actually looking forward to “Doctor Atomic” since it was based on a topic I was greatly interested in, the atomic bomb.  One thing I was not looking forward to was the opera style singing that was to be expected in the performance.  When I think of opera, I imagine heavy-set opera singers singing so loud that it shatters wine glasses and audience members’ eyeglasses.  This was the way it was in the old days, opera singers were usually heavy men and women because they were the only singers capable of hitting the loudest notes.   I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was wrong about the big-boned singers.  To be fair, as an eighteen-year-old college student, opera is not my music genre of choice.  I would be much happier listening to hip-hop, rap, or even country music.

One deterring factor of “Doctor Atomic” was the fact that I couldn’t understand the plot and events going on in the play without looking at the translator on the back of the seat in front of me.  The singers’ words were so distorted and unclear that I couldn’t just listen; I was forced to look down at the translator.  With my eyes going from the stage to the translator constantly, it was almost impossible to understand the dialogue and get the full effect of what was happening on stage.  I found myself constantly asking the question, “Why can’t they just talk?”  It would have been a much better and more enjoyable experience if the dialogues were spoken instead of screamed at the top of their lungs.  What I am trying to say is that “Doctor Atomic” would have been better off as a regular play or even a musical.  It would have been much easier to follow making it more enjoyable.  The audience wouldn’t have to turn to one another for an explanation, much like I did during the opera performance.

Some positive aspects of “Doctor Atomic” were the scenery and visual aspects of the performance.  The elaborate set designs were truly remarkable; however, the atomic bomb itself looked like a ball of lint.  Besides that one minor mishap, I loved the rest of the scenery.  This part of the opera was gripping from beginning to end.  The performance opened with actors and singers in what looked like a huge bookshelf.  It was almost as big as the stage and had many unique characteristics that allowed it to form into different pieces of the opera.  It opened at the middle like a window and even had shades on it to portray images shown from a projector.  It was interesting to see how the set designers used this one object in all aspects of the play whether it was used to convey the image of a storm, a bedroom, or an office full of scientists.

The actors displayed the guilt and mental anguish experienced by the nuclear scientists very well.  Scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb,” were portrayed as geniuses riddled with guilt.  Even though the gifted minds behind the Manhattan Project created a weapon that changed the world ever since it was used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, they knew this opened a whole new world of terrible and disastrous consequences.  The facial expressions and tones in their voices truly allowed the audience to feel guilt and turmoil they were going through.
All in all, “Doctor Atomic” was not a bad experience, if you love opera.  For me, it was difficult to stay awake and understand the plot of the opera.  I feel that the opera would have been much better if the dialogues were spoken, especially in regards to an audience of a much younger age.  The story and plot revolving around the atomic bomb, the single most destructive weapon on the face of the earth, kept the audience interested.  This interest; however, only lasted until the singing began.