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Doctor Atomic
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2011
A re-working of an earlier review, poorly considered and conceived by me, which gave a wrong impression of my ideas. I love the stage works of John Adams and much of Doctor Atomic works beautifully. Certainly, the subject matter--the making and testing of the atomic bomb and its effects on those involved--is a strong foundation for an opera. The singing is top-notch throughout: it is, in turns, dramatic, luxurious, accomplished, moving, characterful, beautiful. But no one is quite as wonderful as Gerald Finley, one of the great singing actors in the world. The heart of the score is the music of Oppenheimer and his painful confrontation of the moral ambiguities involved in making and testing a nuclear weapon. The musical setting of John Donne's text, "Batter My Heart Three-Person'd God" is some of the best music Adams has written. Finley sings it incomparably. Heart-wrenching and marvelous. On the whole, Act One, though a bit long, is always interesting, beautiful, moving, emotional, thought provoking and well-composed. And happily, on video, the large cast of men is more easily distinguished than when just listening. (I've heard it on the radio.)

Alas, for me, Act Two does not continue this excellence. The first hour or so is taken up with well-meaning ideas about the effect the work of these men has on those who have no say in the matter but will be effected all the same. The first scene is a long soliloquy sung by Kitty Oppenheimer, expressing her feelings of futility, fear, loneliness, etc. LONG is the operative word. The point is made within ten minutes or so (maybe even less) but is over-extended by much more than that. And we have heard her in a strong duet with her husband in Act One. The wife is NOT the character I want to know the most about, and this music does not change my mind (despite repeated listens.) And then the scene for the Native Americans--represented vocally by a single woman--is more repetitive and maybe even less apt. To show the arrogance of the men making these decisions with no regard to the effect it will have on ALL cultures is a fine idea, at least in theory, but it is poorly executed here: too long, too repetitive, and a sad case of "diminishing returns." Perhaps the music is persuasive for five or six minutes. Like the first solo, it lasts far longer than that. And the same ideas are confronted in other ways in the opera, making the endless repetitiveness of the scene more keenly felt. [Side note: when I saw Doctor Atomic at the MET, some people left before this scene had ended--not thundering hoards but enough to disturb the people around them, including me. Just in case you think I am the only one who feels this way.] Then the last half hour or so is back to the greatness of the first act. The highly emotional end builds to a sad, painful, quite disturbing conclusion (as it should be.) DVD might be the best way to experience this. Perhaps Act Two would be more tolerable in pieces. I have always watched (or listened) straight through each act.

The staging is very strong given the nature of the piece, and the set that is the periodic table made three-dimensional is a great idea used wisely (except for the Native American scene, which is living statuary with musical accompaniment.) Production values are high. The actual detonation should get a comment. It is not depicted with an explosion. Personal taste will dictate if it works or not (I think it does.)
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 26, 2011
Doctor Atomic appears to be one of those operas one either loves or hates: there is (apparently) no middle ground. I'm strongly in the camp of those who love it - every minute, every note. A fan of the original production by Peter Sellars, I was concerned with what I heard what director Penny Woolcock was doing with it I had misgivings. They flew out the window as soon as I took my seat at the Metropolitan Opera, then again several weeks later at the cinema and now from the comfort of my sofa. The production is unconventional, but then so is Adams' opera.

Julian Crouch's twin walls of boxes represent the periodic chart of the elements, but also let one's imagination morph them into scientific workplace cubicles, symbols of government intrusion and solitary confinement - individuals trapped or lost in a metaphysical maze - and more. The "special effects" used to operate them are minimal but dramatically effective, particularly toward the opera's bone chilling finale.

Adams score - his richest to this point is filled with arias, duets, ensembles, choruses moving fluidly between stylized and realistic dramas, contemplative reminisces on man's plight, governmental responsibility, , actual drama and prayer, most notably in the Act I closing aria for Oppenheimer, "Batter my heart, three person'd God" - a remarkable setting of John Donne's sonnet, sung with an almost unbearable intensity and purity of sound by the remarkable Gerald Finley in what may well be the role of his career.

Richard Paul Fink, Eric Owens, Sasha Cooke, Earle Patriarco, Roger Honeywell, Thomas Glenn and Meredith Arwady all make their characters believable, with Miss Cooke making a frightfully vulnerable Kitty Oppenheimer.

I don't think Adams ever wants his work to be easy on his audience. He is probing, inquisitive, suggestive, menacing, thoughtful, arbitrary and indirect. His operas lay open every possibility for exploration of their drama - usually with an objectivity not found in most of the cut-and-dry scenarios we like in our opera. In almost all of Adams' work, every character emerges both as hero and monster. Understandably, for some people, such ambiguity of character is disturbing in that they find themselves unable to relate to the characters they're trying to understand. Who is the villain? Who, the hero?

Critics and audiences alike have wrestled with not only the difficult theme of this Manhattan Project project, but the very manner by which it was constructed: with elements of electronic etude, symphonic sturm und drang, ancient and modern
philosophies, dance, ballet, and a libretto about as far away from "standard issue dramaturgy" as Philip Glass's Bhagavad Git- inspired "Satyagraha." (Adams and Sellars also draw from the Indian epic for "Dr. Atomic"). Poetry - especially in the guise of "sonnets" (the word itself sounding affected to many audiences, particularly American ones), is not what one expects in plays, lyrics, songs - and barely in arias.

Making his debut is conductor Alan Gilbert shortly before his assumption as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. He seems to feel the score down to his marrow and elicits a performance that is in every way a stunning achievement.

I believe if one gives oneself over to Messrs. Adams and Sellars and Miss Woolcock, this DVD of the Metropolitan Opera's production of a genuine masterpiece will provoke thought and haunt your dreams for days . . . or longer.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon June 16, 2011
I saw this production at a local theater in the Metropolitan Opera's HD LIVE series on November 8th, 2008.

DOCTOR ATOMIC has its moments. The first act builds up to a tremendous aria, Gerald Finley singing "Batter My Heart," one of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne, as the character of Robert Oppenheimer. The first scene is the assembled throng of Manhattan Project workers. I was decidedly underwhelmed. The second scene is a love scene with Oppenheimer and his wife Kitty -- much better, with Finley in fine form. Then back to the bomb, with the test blast impending and a rainstorm, building tension.

Finally, the Faustian scene with Oppenheimer singing to God. The problem with this is that Oppenheimer was Jewish, and not observant. Yes, he did in fact use Donne's sonnet for the name of the Trinity Test Site in southern New Mexico, but this discrepancy undercut the power of the most powerful scene in DOCTOR ATOMIC for me.

The second act I found to be poorly conceived. The weather and the delay in the test, which took place July 16th, 1945, drives the action, which strikes me as a small and mundane aspect of such a literally earth-shattering series of events. The best part of Act II is Kitty, who in real life was a committed leftist and opponent of the Project, and who in the opera symbolizes the human conscience as well as the archetypal Woman standing against the deadly plans of the men, generals and scientists alike.

I was not at all convinced by the addition of a Noble Savage role for the Indian maid Pasqualita and a gallery of impassive male Indians in full regalia. The ending is weak, with a pointed message about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yes, (148,000 people were killed immediately by the only two atomic bombs ever to have been used in war, and 340,000 including those killed later by radiation poisoning and other effects), but not nearly as effective musically and dramatically as the ending of Act I.

As far as Adams's position as a leading American composer, I remain underwhelmed. Minimalism has become merely one element in his eclectic but tonal style, now a sort of audience-friendly PoMo Lite, an acceptable badge of hipness, and Adams continually strives to be a contemporary composer for those who don't like New Music.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2011
After being very impressed with the Peter Sellars production of "Doctor Atomic" in Chicago, I was mildly disappointed with what Penny Woolcock did to it at the Met. I guess that interpretation was supposed to be postmodern or something but I found it unnescessarily static and stodgy by comparison. So my recommendation for a DVD would be the OPUS ARTE recording of the lively Sellars-directed production at the Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2012
I never thought that the events surrounding the first ever, detonation of an atomic bomb(known as the "Trinity" test), in world history, on July 16, 1945, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, could be made into an opera, but Peter Sellars and John Adams, have composed the story, based on the diaries, archives, and government documents of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the major players in his inner circle, with dazzling imagery and musical score.

This theatrical drama, performed through harmonious choruses and powerful solos, gives the audience greater insight into the scientists' conscience, personal conflicts and fears, and their lively discussions and debates, during this very pivotal moment in human history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2011
John Adam's Doctor Atomic is riveting and this production brings out fine performances all around. Gerald Finley's interpretation of Oppenheimer's agonizing decision-making is outstanding! Additionally, Mr. Finley has a truly beautifully produced voice that he colors in just the right way to bring the character to life!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2014
I went and bought one after hearing how infinitely superior this opera was to any of other modern operas, including all the A.L. Weber opuses (which I find mostly, but not entirely awful) and also Ca Ira by Roger Waters (which I found absolutely brilliant).
Someone compared it to the giants of the past, like Boris Godunov, by Mussorgsky.
So I prepared myself for a real treat.
Sorry to say, what a laughable mess I discovered through my headphones. The concept that would without a doubt work in some bombastic Hollywood production, simply does not work if you listen to it.
Lyrics is one complete flop. Too many unconvincing and sometimes unintentionally funny phrases following each other in rather wobbly order and glued together onto rather portentous conceptual framework does not make a good libretto.
Well, Oppenheim made an atomic bomb. He was a scientist. And he was asked rather nicely by US government. And his name became well known. He got celebrity status. That makes him worthy of TV time or cinema screen. But does it make his story a good opera material? I seriously doubt it. Ayatollah Khomeini would make better opera. Just think of it. Khomeini is a natural character, like Dimitri in Boris Godunov.
Oppenheimer is a geek amongst other geeks in grey suits caught between powers struggling for world domination. You cannot blow him up into a character no matter how brilliant the opera singer is or how sophisticated the music you make. Atomic bomb already blown him up quite enough, pardon my bad pun.
Some non-Americans, especially from Middle East would agree, too.

The music is another point. It is not beautiful. It is beautifully executed, rather like an animation in the recent Hobbit movies. Well done! But as someone well put, this music is just like a scaffolding for the lyrics, and when lyrics is a laughing stock, it could not be saved by music, oh no. Exactly like that terrible Hobbit cannot be saved by nicely drawn hair on the computer models. When the whole concept is awful, the music just enhances and encrusts that awfulness.
Listening to that highly acclaimed Batter My Heart aria, which certainly has its moments - literally seconds of great singing and great melodic texture, one cannot shake off the background boredom and irritation. What a waste! Complete waste of money, combined talents, my time, someone else's time. Exactly like the The Hobbit. But someone made great money on it, it is popular, so it cannot be wrong. We need to justify its existence. Likewise, we have to justify the existence of the Atomic Bomb. Sure we do. Or at least have an excuse that looks legitimate enough.

This was done by REAL musician (not like that puny amateur Waters), totally different species of the human being. Like Peter Jackson is a professional cinematographer. Well, both have overall high ratings and highly accepted amongst other professionals of the sort. Can't argue with that!
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on April 19, 2015
Extraordinary work. Excellent music. Memorable performances. An opera that summarizes historical events that changed the world and leads to ethical reflection on Technology. Must.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2015
brings home the real efforts of da bomb and enjoyable insidr look at great people with fascinating entertainment.
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