Sunday, October 26, 2008

Day 128: Dr. Atomic

Gerald Finley as J. Robert Oppenheimer in John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, Photo by Nick Heavican
Last night we went to the opera. This is only my second operatic experience in life, so I don't know if productions like Dr. Atomic are typical, but if they are I would go more often. I don't want to ruin the experience for anyone who might be going, so if you are, you might not want to read on. If you have the chance, I definitely recommend it.

It is extremely powerful to have a singular, concentrated experience (3.5 hours) with the topic of Trinity - and the human will that drove its arrival. Dr. Atomic is a work that rightfully suggests this moment/event was pivotal in history -life on earth was simply not the same after July 16, 1945. I was relieved to sense that the production wasn't an overt celebration or critique of the event or characters. It opened the years in Los Alamos and the stormy morning in Alamogordo to be the highly charged, complex, and riddled with human emotion and struggle that they were. But not to the point of being mere "entertainment" for an audience. It felt as though a historic story was told, but that this story continued into the future to meet the present moment. Maybe this is what the piece allowed for me, a time and place to more fully pause and realize that our choices inevitably continue to shape our future. This is worth pausing for.

A traditional orchestra mixed with digital sound-scapes, often relaying the stresses, labors and efforts embodied by the characters better than dialogue could. During the last few minutes of the piece, as the cast stands on the stage, goggles on, waiting for the detonation to be released before their eyes. A dramatic sound fills the space. It rumbled, grew in vibration, and rolled throughout the hall. I couldn't help but think back to the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas and their cheap, sensational atomic simulation. The experience last night was immensely more powerful without defaulting into any variety of possible cliches. What followed the "blast", in the eerily silence of the "moment after", caught me by complete surprise. A voice-over, in unwavering, unemotional Japanese asks, "Could I please have some water?", "I can't find my husband."... The impact of this provocation, reality, extension outward, and space to connect for oneself, was simply overwhelming. It was the most artful response to July 16, 1945 that I have encountered yet.

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