Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Doctor Atomic

We went to San Francisco to see the new opera Doctor Atomic, about J. Robert Oppenheimer. This was primarily Maribeth's idea. I don't consider myself an opera fan (and Doctor Atomic didn't change that), although I do like musicals such as Les Miserables and Chess.

What exactly is the difference between an opera and a musical anyway?

None of the "verse" in Doctor Atomic rhymes. And I certainly could not hum a tune from Doctor Atomic. Is that the difference? But the music in Carmen is at least as catchy as anything in Les Miserables. Suppose you made an opera that was as tuneful as Carmen, but was in mostly comprehensible English like Doctor Atomic. Would it still be an opera, or would it be a Broadway musical?

I put it to you that a modern opera is a Broadway musical that has been freed from the need to be affordable, understandable, interesting, or pleasant to the ear.

According to something I read, probably in the program, the early plan for Doctor Atomic was that the first atomic bomb would go off at the end of Act One, and then the rest of the opera would be about Oppenheimer's later life, his loss of his security clearance and so forth. I think this might have been a better idea. Instead what actually happens in the opera is that the Trinity bomb is hoisted into its tower, ready to be tested, at the end of Act One, and then Act Two consists entirely of everyone standing around waiting and waiting for the bomb to go off. Just hurry up and explode already! As the opera drags to a close, the characters receive a five-minute warning that the bomb will detonate, then a two-minute warning. But I'm pretty sure the audience had to sit there for a lot longer than two minutes before the blessed thing finally went off.

On the bright side, we spent some time with Jonathan in Berkeley, and we also dropped in on Evan and Nisha in San Francisco, so the trip was still worthwhile.


At 12:03 PM, October 26, 2005, Blogger mapletree7 said...

How do we feel about Gilbert and Sullivan?

At 2:42 PM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Richard Mason said...

We like Gilbert and Sullivan, or at least we think we do. We've seen Pirates of Penzance about three times but haven't seen any of the others performed live. We guess we've seen significant chunks of The Mikado by way of Topsy Turvy.



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