Standing room was apparently sold out for the closing night of Doctor Atomic. By the time I showed up yesterday morning (around 9:15), people had already finished their Egg McMuffins and pulled out decks of cards. It was clear that people who weren't regular opera goers had turned out for this, because the line had formed on the other side of the lobby. Surprisingly disorienting.
I've found that when the standing room gets a little cozy, the needle flies off the Beeeeeeyotch-o-meter, and so it was last night. Last time I remember it being like this was for Dawn Upshaw and Thomas Allen in Cunning Little Vixen, when there was a woman who tried to cut the line by literally body-blocking me to prevent me from getting in the doorway. Last night we had a woman (who had gotten some serious training in biotech) squeezing herself into a space along the rail after everyone else had already staked out her territory, and then pushing other's peoples' clothes aside and jabbing her elbows into her neighbors (i.e., me). Confidential to Mme. Super-Beyotch: If you stop your self-righteous complaining and pause to think for a moment, it will become obvious that my suit jacket laid on the rail is in fact the width of my fairly slender body and not the width of three people, as you claim.
And yet, despite the evildoers and the inconvenience of standing for three hours (plus the lecture, because I had to protect my spot from Mme. Super-B's encroachment), I was glad to be there. Final brain dump in the second part of this post.
The ending appears to have been reconceived since opening night, and I am mighty conflicted about the result. "You'll get your explosion," John said during last night's talk, but as I've mentioned before, the lack of an explicit explosion was the most wondrous and poetic part of opening night's performance. Now there is a moment which is clearly the detonation: there is the timpani activity that woke Lisa up, followed by a growing rumble in the sound design till you can feel it on your skin, capped by the abrupt lighting shift to red and the cast looking up while still lying on their bellies.
What I can't remember from opening night are the lighting cues after that point. All I was aware of was a transition to a different space, that was quiet and reflective. And when the Japanese woman's voice emerged, it was gutwrenching as the waves of recognition rolled in. I don't know if we were actually in darkness, but it sure felt that way.
The effect these past couple of performances has been completely
different. It seems that those who saw it opening night fell neatly
into "got it: wow" and "didn't get it: huh?" camps, and the "huh?" camp was large enough that something had to be done to rectify the problem.
The ending certainly has been clarified, so I think there are now far fewer
"huh?"s. They did it tastefully and the impact is still strong. But
being a "wow," I'm saddened that a little piece of poetry has been lost
to history, and grateful that at least I got to experience it once.
Opening night I was in O, center orchestra. Tuesday I was in L, orchestra right. Last night I was standing, at the back of the orchestra, and last night's balances among singers and between singers and orchestra were by far the best. For the first time, I could hear every note that Kristine Jepson sang, including the big melismas. Like Lisa, I think that it may have much to do with the positioning of the sound board. Mark Grey is back there with all the standees, and I am glad to have been the beneficiary of that last night.
Kristine Jepson does a commendable job as Kitty, especially stepping in as she did. But having heard her three times now, trying to keep an open mind each time, this was just not her role. She has some physical habits that are inappropriate and pulls her completely out of character, like the way she leans back and throws her head off to the right when she has big leaps up (and the higher the pitch the more off-center she gets), or the way she physicalizes each note in angular lines by moving up or down according to where the line goes. Among the amazing things about La Lorraine is her uncanny ability to communicate so much with a minimum of extraneous movement. Who can say for sure what she would have done with this role? But I fear that, in the end, this run suffered from her absence.
In his talk last night, John mentioned that he was heartened that people were coming back to see it two, three, even four times. Each time has been a completely different experience for me, because I get to explore a new layer. This time I chose to focus as much as I could on the orchestra, letting the staging, singing, and supertitles shift into the background. It was like hearing the whole piece fresh. Who knew there was a three-hour symphony underlying everything? There were so many marvelous details that my ear grabbed for the first time; the Baudelaire section of Scene 2 in particular took on a degree of sexiness that I hadn't gotten before.
I wonder if the Diet Scene issues can be resolved by restaging. Having Groves and Oppie parade in so solemnly and park center stage seems incongruous with the lightness inherent in their small-talk conversation. If the point of the scene is inanity, then visually we shouldn't be seeing profundity.
If the score undergoes any revisions, I hope they will consider revoicing the opening chorus. A comment I heard repeatedly throughout the run was that the chorus sounded surprisingly weak: so many people on stage, so little sound! Well, they'll inevitably sound small if only half of them are singing at any given time. The middle voices start with the phrase "Matter can be neither created nor destroyed," and they're all in the low parts of their range, and then the outer voices do the octave high E's piano. I'm certain there's a way to revoice those chords so that more people are on the "Matter..." part of the phrase in meatier sections of their voices, and have it still sound hushed but present.
Gerald Finley has had to sing this role every other night since October 14, and I think it may have been too big a burden. The first night I heard an effortless ringing top in a very high-lying role. Tuesday I saw and heard him working, and last night I heard strain. I've heard Adams himself say something to the effect that he tends to write men's lines that sit a little too high for a little too long, and perhaps this schedule was made for a superhuman. Sadly, if it weren't for that, I wouldn't question the deliberateness of what turned out to be an especially affecting moment last night: when Finley sang the last (English) words of the opera--"Lord, these affairs are hard on the heart"--his voice caught just slightly at the end of "heart," right before he joined the rest of the cast on the ground.
By contrast, the character that has grown dramatically for me through repeated hearings is Beth Clayton's Pasqualita. Once the corn dance begins, the second act totally takes off, and her line "The dead are on the march!" has become ever more chilling and resonates even stronger now than the first time I heard it. Brava to Beth Clayton. This could have been such a cheesy new-agey quasi-mystical role in the wrong hands, but she did it right.
And thus the curtains come down on SF Opera's Doctor Atomic run. My best wishes to this work for a long and healthy life, and continued growth. Off now to Stanford to hear Dawn Upshaw, eighth blackbird, and Gustavo Santaolalla play Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre with Heather!