Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Minority Report on Dr. Atomic / Redux

Ron Rosenbaum has a scathing critique of Peter Sellars' libretto for Dr. Atomic over at Slate.

I'll concur with an even more general point: a lot of modern opera libretti aren't terribly good. Now, I don't know that one needs to lavish the sort of care on a libretti -- especially in a traditional (i.e., non-Gesamtkunstwerk) opera -- that Richard Wagner did in, for example, the Ring or Parsifal; I do know, however, that libretti are something more than an excuse for a pleasing vocal line.

I do not, however, think that the folks in love with Dr. Atomic really care about the quality of the libretto. I see three alternate possibilities: (1) people love the music, (2) people love the staging, and/or (3) people love the philosophical/political content or implications. I think most folks would be pretty upfront about (1) and (2), but I get the impression that it might be a little déclassé to admit that one loves a work of art solely because it fits into one's subjective political or philosophical worldview.

At the risk of making this really awkward, I am not at all surprised that the libretto ranges from not the strongest point of the work, in some of the better reviews' judgment, to Rosenbaum's walkout-worthiness opinion. This opera seems to want to make a point that anyone who's ever been an undergraduate or precocious high-school student has made, probably at a party when it wasn't terribly appropriate to do so. In other words, this opera seems to want to make the point that using (developing) terribly destructive weapons is a difficult moral choice. It's along the lines of the Philosophy 101 question, "Would you kill one man if you could save a thousand? A million?"

Of course, gentlemen of a certain age didn't and don't really express a lot of moral angst about the use of atomic weapons in August 1945. Indeed, there's a reason why Dr. Atomic is about Oppenheimer rather than Edward Teller, to say nothing of combat-weary men who saw -- rightly or wrongly, given the later revelations of history and the effectiveness of firebombing Japanese cities -- only the rising sun in their futures.

It's not a great surprise the libretto was done poorly, or at least not brilliantly.


At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Government reports and personal diaries (the sources for much of the libretto) can make for totally uninvolving lyrics. You get plenty of that in Dr. Atomic. Add the stylistic tic of a melismatic descent in pitch on the last syllable of what seems like every other phrase and the solo vocals can start to grate.

And yet, and yet... The setting of John Donne's "Batter my heart" that closes Act 1 is worth the price of admission. Some of the ensembles are ear-catching. And the orchestral writing is riveting in its expressive power.

Could the libretto be better? Oh yes, much better. Is it worse than the wince-inducing efforts found in such respectable repertoire as Ernani, Thaïs, Peter Grimes, or any of two dozen others we could all name? No, not really. I could have wished for more but was glad to see it (in HD at a local theater). At least opera is still vital.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger steve said...

الرائد من افضل شركات الخدمات المنزلية في المملكة وخدماتها تغطى كل المنطقة العربية للمزيد قم بزيارة
شركة تنظيف خزانات بمكة شركة غسيل خزانات بمكة
افضل شركة تنظيف منازل بالمدينة المنورة افضل شركات تنظيف منازل بالمدينة المنورة

شركة تنظيف مجالس بالمدينة المنورة افضل شركة تنظيف مجالس بالمدينة المنورة
شركة تنظيف بالمدينة المنورة شركة نظافة بالمدينة المنورة


Post a Comment

<< Home