John Adams's Doctor Atomic Opens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Classic Arts News   John Adams's Doctor Atomic Opens at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Perhaps the most talked-about new opera of the new century opens this evening at Chicago's Civic Opera House, as Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Doctor Atomic, John Adams's retelling of the Manhattan Project and the detonation of the first atom bomb.

Lyric Opera co-commissioned the work with San Francisco Opera, which presented the world premiere in October 2005, and the Netherlands Opera, which gave the European premiere this past summer as part of the Holland Festival.

Lyric Opera is presenting the original staging by director Peter Sellars. Sellars also compiled and adapted the libretto, which is drawn from declassified U.S. government documents concerning the Manhattan Project as well as poetry by (among others) Charles Baudelaire, John Donne and Muriel Rukeyser and excerpts from the Bhagavad-Gita.

Baritone Gerald Finley returns to the central role of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which he created, with baritone Richard Paul Fink as Edward Teller, bass Eric Owens as Gen. Leslie Groves, baritone James Maddalena as Jack Hubbard and tenor Thomas Glenn as Robert Wilson (the physicist, not the director).

The key role of Oppenheimer's wife Kitty was originally composed for the late mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who was too ill to perform in the opera's 2005 premiere run in San Francisco and who succumbed to cancer in July of 2006. Adams has since recast the role for soprano; taking the part in Chicago will be Jessica Rivera, who has become an Adams specialist over the past year or so. (She has filled in for Dawn Upshaw in recent revivals of El Niê±o and created the central role of Kumudha in Adams's most recent opera, A Flowering Tree.)

Playing Pasqualita, the Oppenheimers' Mexican housekeeper, is contralto Meredith Arwady, a member of Lyric's Ryan Opera Center for young artists and a 2007 winner of a $10,000 Richard Tucker Foundation Career Grant.

Robert Spano, the dynamic music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and a major champion of new American music, will conduct the eight performances from tonight through Jan. 19.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago website ( is offering a wealth of information on Doctor Atomic: three articles on the work's background, New York Times coverage of the opera's 2005 world premiere, photos of the staged production and archival photos of the characters' real-life counterparts. The website also offers streaming audio of Finley singing Oppenheimer's aria "Batter my heart, three-person'd God" and three podcasts: an interview with Sellars, a second interview with the two male leads, Gerald Finley and Eric Owens, and audio of a December 9 symposium on Doctor Atomic with the composer, director and star as well as Oppenheimer's biographer and two physicists, one of whom worked on the Manhattan Project.

Next year the Metropolitan Opera and English National Opera will collaborate on a new production of Doctor Atomic directed by Penny Woolcock, who made the award-winning film version of Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer for the U.K.'s Channel Four television in 2003.

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