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Adams: Doctor Atomic at the Met Opera and on DVD

(November 2008)

Adams: Doctor Atomic at the Met Opera and on DVD

John Adams is receiving an OPERA NEWS Award this month and his impact on the opera world has never been clearer than in the weeks surrounding his Metropolitan Opera debut.  If his goal was to create art that is relevant to society and that permeates the greater consciousness, he has certainly succeeded.

Adams’s opera on J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atom bomb, Doctor Atomic (2005), drew an audience of physicists, retired scientists who served at Los Alamos, history and political science professors, technology hounds, students, literary societies, opera buffs, matrons and patrons, music and theatre critics, bloggers, fellow composers, and the otherwise culturally curious. The Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcasts further expanded the audience to more than 150 cities worldwide. With a house full of so many perspectives, the reviews and online discussions have covered everything from the historicity of the scientifically assembled libretto to the searing moral questions posed in the ‘atomic age.’

However, it is Adams’s “darkly riveting” score that has caught the attention of critics:

“The Metropolitan's production of "Dr. Atomic" (the title evokes both science fiction and Goethe's "Dr. Faustus") is stunning. The opera opens with brash, loud, recorded electronic music before the orchestra (conducted by Alan Gilbert) takes over and we find ourselves in the midst of the labs at Los Alamos, New Mexico. …

“Adams's music is not unrelentingly modern—it is lyrical, romantic, Wagnerian by turns, and it matches the enormity of his myth. The choral singing is grand as the libretto uses the Bhagavad Gita's horrific descriptions of universal destruction to create the terror of the bomb.”
Newsweek

“This score continues to impress me as Mr. Adams’s most complex and masterly music. Whole stretches of the orchestral writing tremble with grainy colors, misty sonorities and textural density.”
The New York Times

"Adams's music is the prime reason to see the opera. Inspired by the bigness of the ideas he is conveying ... the American has written his most eclectic and boldest score. …

"Adams calls this story 'the greatest mythological tale of our time,' and his opera gives dark, disturbing credence to that claim."
The Times (UK)

"…darkly riveting…Adams has written his finest work."
New York magazine

"…the score is so purely gorgeous it could make you cry."
The Washington Post

“…a hauntingly powerful, deeply humane and eloquent work…some of his most compelling and imaginative music to date…”
The Boston Globe

Robert Spano (who led Lyric Opera of Chicago’s performances of Doctor Atomic last year) will lead the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in concert performances of Doctor Atomic November 21 and 23. A fully-staged production will be presented by English National Opera in February of 2009.

Doctor Atomic on DVD (Opus Arte)
The Netherlands Opera has released a DVD recording of Doctor Atomic on the Opus Arte label (distributed by Naxos in North America). This original production is directed by work’s librettist and Adams’s long-time collaborator, Peter Sellars. Conductor Lawrence Renes leads the Netherlands Opera Chorus and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, along with Gerald Finley (J. Robert Oppenheimer), Eric Owens (General Leslie Groves), and Richard Paul Fink (Edward Teller). Bonus features include an interview with Sellars, an illustrated synopsis, and a cast gallery.

Click here to purchase the DVD.

Click here to watch a video clip.

Adams’s memoirs, Hallelujah Junction
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (who published Alex Ross’s “The Rest is Noise”) have released John Adams’s memoirs, “Hallelujah Junction,” and Nonesuch has compiled a two-CD retrospective by the same name to compliment the reading.

As the critics agree, Adams proves himself to be a gifted writer of prose as well as music:

“It's hard to imagine Mahler or Sibelius, the Fin de siècle heavies to whom Adams is sometimes compared, writing about themselves in the spry tones of Hallelujah Junction. It's refreshing and in fact rare for a major composer to write his own story, and do so without blaring the French horns of his ego on every page. …

“Throughout his book, Adams offers fascinating insights into his acclaimed orchestral works and controversial operas ... [A]fter reading Hallelujah Junction, and learning how he consistently challenged himself to go deeper into and wider into music, and himself, it's easy to see how Adams has earned his spot on the A-List of living composers.”
Publishers Weekly

“[‘Hallelujah Junction’] offers the voice of America straight from the horse's mouth, and to read something so intelligent, reasoned and caring sure feels good these days."
Los Angeles Times

"Mr. Adams writes so well that it’s a little dismaying for someone who clings to the notion that writing, like composing, is a calling developed over years, and not a hobby picked up in middle age."
The New York Times

"Adams's searingly introspective autobiography reveals the workings of a brilliant musical mind responsible for some of contemporary America's most inventive and original music. …

“Combining the narrative power of opera, the atonal themes of 20th-century classical music, the spooky modulations of jazz and the complex rhythms of the Beatles and the Band, Adams created a new music that could express the fractiousness of the political scene of the 1960s and 1970s. In this entertaining memoir, Adams deftly chronicles his life and times, providing along the way an incisive exploration of the creative process. …

"Adams's unique touch finds its literary analogue in a style of rare precision. [The composer] here emerges as a storyteller."
The Independent (UK)

"Adams’s wry, smart memoir stands with books by Berlioz and Louis Armstrong among the most readably incisive musical autobiographies."
The New York Times Sunday Book Review

“Although it is entirely about music, this is a book that any aspiring artist, in any medium, should read as a kind of how-to guide to achieving artistic success without losing integrity, something that seems to many young artists today nearly impossible. In fact, it is a book for anyone who wants to create something - including a self.”
The Boston Globe

Click here to purchase Adams’s memoirs and/or Nonesuch’s two-disc retrospective, “Hallelujah Junction.”

A Flowering Tree: now available on CD
In September Nonesuch released the premiere CD recording of A Flowering Tree, Adams’s latest opera. The work was was commissioned for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth and was premiered at the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna in November 2006. The composer leads the London Symphony Orchestra and Venezuela’s Schola Cantorum Caracas, directed by Maria Guinand, on this recording—which features tenor Russell Thomas, soprano Jessica Rivera, and bass-baritone Eric Owens.

“ ‘A Flowering Tree,’ John Adams' bittersweet, fairy-tale answer to Mozart's ‘Magic Flute,’ sounds just as fluid and enchanting on disc as it did last year in its U.S. premiere in Davies Symphony Hall.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“…a terrific recording.”
Los Angeles Times

“The score is opulent, dreamlike, fiercely lyrical, at times shadowy and strange—unlike anything that the composer has written …”
The New Yorker

“The score is alive with pulsing strings, glinting metallic percussion and his trademark jumpy rhythmic patter … a compelling achievement.”
Chicago Tribune

“Mr. Adams really goes for it. His score is alive with innocence and magic, which buzz in the violins, chime softly from the bells and blow in little windy phrases on recorders at the moment of enchantment.”
The New York Times

"[A Flowering Tree] commands attention musically and dramatically as handily as Verdi. …

“Adams defines the unimaginable, using hypnotic minimalist arpeggios in ways that convey the rhythm of the Earth while melodies wander into unknown regions, governed only by the winds of fate. The woman-to-tree transformation arises from a bedrock of radiant string tremolos; celebratory percussion sounds like pealing bells in a meadow of glistening string harmonics and soft percussion. The assemblage of sounds is one thing, but could traditional composers create such trancelike stasis? …

"Adams's sound-world is still expanding…and, with A Flowering Tree, it has embraced a new sweetness and lyrical beauty. In this, the composer's seventh decade, his musical fertility still springs anew."
The New Statesman

Click here to purchase A Flowering Tree on CD.


> Further information on Work: A Flowering Tree

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

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