Thursday, September 29, 2005

Atomize My Heart

Last night, I was privileged to see the brand-new, never yet performed Dr. Atomic opera at the Final Dress. I was pretty psyched. John has been a super in the San Francisco Opera for maybe nine years now (for those who don't know, super=spear carrier/soldier/servant--whatever--and he isn't paid and he doesn't sing), but never before has he been so involved and inspired. Mostly, supers are treated like furniture with legs, but in this opera, Peter Sellars, the director, sat down with them and said that they were actors, not supers, and an integral part of the opera. John, like everyone else, watched DVDs on Oppenheimer and read all about it. We have been keyed up and ready.

Well, I liked Dr. Atomic, but did not love it. It may be because of my ignorance of opera conventions and my own biases. It was very interesting (and John has a huge part, so it was fun to track him). I liked the drama of it best--the set, the lighting, the dance/movement. People raved about the music, but all I can say about the music is that it worked, was very dramatic. I am not qualified to say what is good music in terms of opera.

I loved the parts of the opera where the drama and poetry were working together--as in the scene where Oppenheimer sings John Donne's Holy Sonnet Number 14, "Batter my heart, three-personed God." My problem is/was that these sequences did not altogether fit with the rest. It created a peculiar texture. In other words, the diction conflicted. Right before this scene, for instance, the general is talking to Oppenheimer about his diet and calorie counting. Then there's this anguished scene--and not only is the emotion 180 degrees from what came a minute before, but we go from 20th century banality to 17th century poetry ("Yet dearely I love you, and would be loved faine..."). That was not the only time this sort of problem occurred. We were constantly jumped back and forth. In other places, I just found the writing stilted and inverted as if to make it more musical, but as I love the natural syntax of the English language circa 2005, I found it less musical.

After the opera we went out with John's super friends to Jardinere for a drink. I don't know what they put in their drinks (hey, I had one vodka-and-grapefruit-juice)--or maybe it was because we'd had nothing to eat until we were home, around midnight, but I was awfully hung over this morning. And now we just got a ticket on our old Volvo--two weeks in a row--for streetcleaning.

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