By Crory, Neil
Opera Canada , Vol. 52, No. 2
SONY: 88697 80665 9
SONY: 88697 80662 9
SONY: 88697 80663 9
SONY: 88697 80664 9
These Metropolitan Opera Live in HD releases all feature a strong Canadian element, with baritone Gerald Finley (J. Robert Oppenheimer) and tenors Roger Honeywell (Captain James Nolan) and Thomas Glenn (Robert Wilson) in Doctor Atomic: tenor Joseph Kaiser (Narraboth) in Salome; soprano Adrianne Pieczonka (Amelia) in Simon Boccanegra; and Michael Levine designing the set for Anthony Minghella's stunning Madama Butterfly. Toronto producer Barbara Willis Sweete also directed the Strauss and Verdi for the big screen.
Doctor Atomic is set on the Alamogordo Test Range in New Mexico in July 1945 in the hours leading up to the detonation of the first atomic bomb. Peter Sellars' libretto draws on a variety of source materials, including memoirs, interviews, government documents, technical manuals and poetry. The results, however, can make more for disjointed meditations and philosophical musings than riveting theatre, a shortcoming Penny Woolcock's sturdy co-production for the Met and English National Opera attempts to redress.
Finley triumphed again as Oppenheimer (Dr. Atomic), his conception and execution of this taxing role virtually faultless and his diction eloquent. He's especially good at the end of Act I in Adams' setting of John Donne's soul-searching "Batter my heart, threeperson'd God"--a transcen--a transcendental performance full of doubt and despair.
The rest of the cast is uniformly strong, including Eric Owens' forceful General Leslie Groves. Richard Paul Fink's testy Edward Teller, Sasha Cooke's alcoholic Kitty Oppenheimer and Meredith Arwady's Pasqualita, Kitty's Native American maid. The release documents distinguished Met debuts for Honeywell and Glenn.
Doctor Atomic under went a rewrite after its San Francisco Opera premiere in 2005, but the work could benefit from further tightening and pruning--particularly those sections involving Kitty and her maid. Of the two acts, the first remains the more cohesive and successful.
The Madama Butterfly staged by the late Anthony Minghella (whose movies include The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley) won the prestigious Olivier Award when it premiered at English National Opera. which helped guarantee a solidly sold-out first run at the Met. For his first opera. Minghella assembled a stellar design team, including Chinese fashion designer Han Feng, associate director and choreographer Carolyn Choa (Minghella's wife) and designer Michael Levine. Apart from a few props, the set features a series of Japanese sliding walls moved across the vast stage by a crew of faceless, black-clad figures. The brilliant final touch is a vast angled mirror suspended above the stage that allows the audience to see both in front of and behind the screens, as well as the explosion of reflected colors in Feng's stunning traditional Japanese costumes.
With great Butterflys in short supply, we're lucky to have soprano Patricia Racette. Hers is not a particularly distinguished voice, but she uses what she has with subtlety and authority. It is also a reliable voice and one in which her musical and dramatic intent is never in question. Tenor Marcell[degrees] Giordani makes a handsome yet callous Pinkerton, while both the stalwart baritone Dwayne Croft (Sharpless) and robust mezzo Maria Zifchak (Suzuki) provide solid performances. Smaller roles, for the most part, are surprisingly undercast. …