Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Dr Atomic: Doomed to Bomb?
“Art-Science?” hissed an anonymous opera-loving artist and dean at the City University of New York, when I asked if she would be going to see the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Dr. Atomic. “Science will only dilute true art. I expect it to bomb. I’ll read the review to confirm,” she snapped.
“But give it a shot– at least it’s not completely factually accurate, so you might like it…there could be some artistic merit, right?” I pleaded.
The anonymous dean is not the only one to protest the intermingling of science and art, but I believe these types will be missing out on a truly fantastic production. While the building of the first atomic bomb took about 27 months to complete, John Adams and Peter Sellers poured over the creation of Dr. Atomic for approximately six years. The result is a feast for all the senses. The set is appropriately stark and jagged and the sounds are heavy and intense (the Met installed a six zone surround sound for the very first time). Equally essential, the crashing and thundering causes not only the heart to beat, but also affects that other organ– the brain– in a way that only a work based on true experience can. There truth is…there is nothing more frightening than the truth, and for the most part Adams and Sellers stuck to the facts.
In fact, the libretto (written by Peter Sellers) is largely a compilation of quotes. Though this does not make for a hummable tune, there’s really no need of such a gimmick– the lines are too haunting to forget.
“The soul is a thing so impalpable, so often useless, and sometimes so embarrassing that at this loss I felt only a little more emotion than if, during a walk, I had lost my visiting card,” says Oppenheimer, who was, ironically, a graduate of the Ethical Culture School. Whether or not the creation of the bomb was ethical is debatable, but the production of the opera is certainly ethereal. Perhaps it takes art to find make something divine from a rubble of destruction.