Thursday, 26 February 2009

Doctor Atomic

A really splendid first night of John Adams (the Nixon in China man)'s new opera, Doctor Atomic. Fabulous singing, especially from the glorious Gerald Finley. The first-half closer was a solo setting for him of Donne's sonnet 'Batter my heart, three-person'd God', and it was a show-stopper. Donne is a devil to set as it's such twisty, complex stuff: I've never heard a convincing setting, and often you just wish you could get rid of the music. But this was stunning music.

There had been a lull in the middle of the first half, as the bedroom scene with the Oppenhemers didn't work terribly well. The libretto was so abstruse that you couldn't take it seriously as a conversation, and it wasn't clear what anyone was talking about. Beautiful singing, though, from Finley again - god, he's good - and Sasha Cooke as Kitty Oppenheimer. One member of the cast was a last-minute substitution, and I didn't catch who, but it was impossible to tell. Everyone's diction was lovely, and they got the accents spot on, I thought. Good naturalistic pronunciation, too - none of that 'pronounce the words as they are spelt, not how a normal person would say them' rubbish, except from the alto Meredith Arwady, resolutely enunciating 'moun-TAYNS' when everyone else sang 'mountins'. Her part was a bit of a drag, to be honest: she was a sort of ethnic voice of conscience.

The second half - all one and half hours of it - hardly flagged. Adams really built up the tension, but he used touches of humour to release it as effectively as Shakespeare does: they were very nicely judged. Almost at the end, there were two minutes of near silence: brilliant. The final moments had the perfect focus on individual anguish. After the end, there was a silence you could almost feel - until the inevitable over-eager idiot felt they had to start clapping: a great pity.

The chorus work was very effective: for once having everyone in their own little box seemed appropriate to the subject matter. The choruses were all, I think, all homophonic - no: what's it called when everyone sings different notes but at the same time? - which made a few ragged edges obvious. Mostly excellent, though. The staging worked very well, with the bomb dangling ahead for much of the time, and the weather effects were good too. As in Candide, the touches of video and graphics were beautifully judged, eschewing gimmickry.

The whole thing was surprisingly affecting: I cried for the first time ever at an opera, having sat dry-eyed through Madame Butterfly, Tosca, and so on. It's really not at all an odd subject for an opera when you consider it.

Top marks all round - do go and see it! Day seats in the balcony are only £10 and you just phone the box office after 1230 to get one.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The sticking place

Recently, I scrunched up my courage and posted the stuff I'd been writing about Clare Wilkinson, who is a rather fabulous mezzo who sings with I Fagiolini. Unfortunately, Blogspot stuck up the post under the date when I'd started to write it, rather than when I'd finished it, so it's got a bit buried. Do please go and have a look at it - I'd be interested to know what you think (and also grateful if anyone knows how to pronounce 'paean' - A and I don't, we realised).

I had a good conversation with a work colleague a while ago about postivity and negativity, and how your mental attititude colours the world around you to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It reminded me of something someone told me when I was a journalist, which was that to write a positive review of something is much more of a risk than writing a negative one: you really stick your neck out when you praise something. It's always easier to criticise: partly, humour comes more easily when you're being rude. Writing with a positive slant feels slightly naff.

We've been pondering the nature of fandom, too. There was a funny story in the press about a woman who'd sat outside the gate of Prince's estate for several weeks. When he heard about it, he went and asked her to come in and talk to him - at which point she got up and left. It made me think of medieval courtly love, where the adoration is the whole point and consummation would ruin the whole thing. And Petrarch, writing all his poems about Laura after she was dead. Great art, but lousy sex.

Our fandom remains at the point where what we dream about is introducing Russell T Davies to Joss Whedon at a dinner party, and getting the discussion started with some suitably geeky topics. But at least the evening would have a purpose: the problem when you admire people is that all there is to do is gush. If you get that far - when A and I were in the same room as Clare at a post-concert drink session, we stood in the corner staring at our toes and twiddling our glasses. But then you can't really stride up to someone and say baldly "You're wonderful!" - can you?

PS After being so rude about Janet Baker, I was wurgling around on YouTube and found some videos of her. Oops. She's, um, rather good, isn't she? I guess I just didn't like trained voices in the days when I didn't have one...