The second time around (Saturday night was the last of ten San Francisco Opera performances):
- Attendance. The performance sold out and I didn't see anyone leave early.
- Act 1. The libretto was more coherent and significant the second time, and a result, the act had more dramatic tension. Last time, a "mythic" engineering lab seemed preposterous, even to this engineer-by-training; this time, maybe it could be.
- Gerald Finley. Listening to his new Ives CD this week helped me calibrate his baritone, and I enjoyed his performance. Or maybe he just had a better night.
- "Oppie." Maybe it was Finley, but this time I actually cared about Oppenheimer as a character.
- Love scene. Although still odd in both music and text, the Baudelairean rhapsody clicked.
- Batter My Heart. Last time, I liked the way Findley acted. This time, I also liked how he sang. A lot.
- Pasqualita. Barely remembered from the first performance (due to operatic sensory overload), this time Beth Clayton's contralto was other-worldly.
- Sound. Before, we were row P in the orchestra; last night, I was upstairs in balcony circle. The result? The chorus in particular had more presence and the electronica sounded better integrated. The opening sounds last week gave a ping-pong effect, as if being at a cinema multiplex. Of course, I couldn't see much from the cheap(er) seats. Does Findley actually smoke that cigarette?
- Stage: Actually, from the balcony, I noticed for the first time that "ground zero" circle on the stage, where much of the action was centered.
- Spouse. Without Laura, it's not as fun. No strangers complimented me on my clothes last night and unlike last time as I excitedly parked, no one asked if I was going to run to the opera house.
- Pre-concert lecture. Adams talked more about his other operas and how in all of them, he clearly was aiming for an American response rather than a purely mythological one as in say, Faust or the Greeks. He also was gratified it might be necessary to attend several performances to fully grasp the opera. Finally, he mentioned receiving a letter from the retired director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator that suggested, if I got this right, there is no historical proof to indicate Oppenheimer had, er, marital relations. [Is the SLAC guy wrong given that Lisa Hirsch points out they did have children? Is he suggesting "relational disconnect" only occurred during the Trinity Project? Or is he just being, at best, facetious?] Adams said we were free to leave during that scene if it bothered us.
- Act 2 libretto. I found this part of the libretto even more tedious. At some point, I quit listening to and reading the text and just waited for the countdown.
- The ending. This time, I just felt the horror of the atom bomb. Last time, I felt a breathtaking sense of compassion.
- Groves and the Meteorologist. Confused by them the first night, I was annoyed by them the second.
- Pre-concert lecture. This time, Adams explicitly described the ending. While he pointed out one aspect I hadn't comprehended, I wonder if overall, he weakened its impact. It was like that old presentation saw "tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them." Fine for tech presentations but too explicit for art?
- Teller. I understand he's there to advance the story but especially during the second act, I found myself annoyed hearing speculative pessimism about the pending explosion from
a government guya WWII technical authority wearing jeans.
- Electronica. The introduction to Act I sounds "Euro avant-gardish" where the rest of the opera sounds contemporarily traditional. The latter is what Adams does best, I suppose. The former, along with the truck, airplane and radio fragments, was
superfluousdisjoint from the rest of the opera. This from a listener who enjoys John "nihilism" Cage, who thinks organized sound is inherently musical and who bought the new Boards of Canada CD in a harried trip to the Castro before the show.
- Chord. The chord at the beginning of Act 2 startled me last time, this time not so much.
- Set: No change from my original feeling of abhorrence.
- Kid: That kid in pajamas strikes such an innocent note.
- Da Bomb: Less obtrusive from the balcony although this time it reminded me a bit of a fish with eyes.
- Melodic material: I walked to the car with a melody from I Looked through the Ceiling... playing in my head. Not a good sign.
- Orchestration: Again, maybe Adams' best use of percussion since the first movement of El Dorado.
- Kitty. The line about her motive being loneliness is still vivid but I still don't see Kitty as the Gaia-like humanist that Adams suggests. Are we still disappointed about Lorraine Hunt Lieberson?
- Earbox. At the store, people inspected the $99.99 John Adams CD collection but no one bought it.
- Orchestra. Sounded fine again, especially the solo instrumental lines. There's a second act string passage that shows Adams is in fact entering a phase of "new complexity," at least relative to the old Adams. He's not likely to turn into Brian Ferneyhough, though.
- Target list. The sense of foreboding and doom when they review the potential target list was still powerful, especially when the horns played as they mentioned Hiroshima.
- Dance. The Gap Kids were great again, e.g. when a couple of them are carried by the others during Act 2.
- Audience. Compared to the Sunday matinee, the Saturday night crowd was older and I heard more foreign language spoken. The guy next to me dozed off half-a-dozen times. During some line about the US being a great, honorable nation, somebody laughed. And on the way out, I heard this exchange:
Opera-goer: That's why they call it an experiment.
Spouse: You can't have everything.
I don't know if they were speaking of the opera or the country. On the whole, Doctor Atomic was a little better than the first time, even if it is not (yet) the all-encompassing transcendental art we might secretly hope for.