Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dr. Atomic at the Met - and Maybe a Theater Near You

Though the Metropolitan Opera’s new 125th Anniversary season began last month at their Lincoln Center home and the radio broadcasts do not begin until November 29th, the HD-Transmissions have already begun. These movie-broadcasts (perhaps not the most elegant way to refer to them) bring HD-quality live broadcasts directly to hundreds of movie theaters across the country and around the world.

The opening night Gala with reigning diva Renée Fleming (Eastman '83) was broadcast live on September 22nd - a young cellist whose blog I’ve been following responded enthusiastically to having seen it.

Richard Strauss’ Salome with Karita Matilla in the title role of this highly acclaimed production was broadcast last Saturday, October 11th. But in case you missed it, there is a rebroadcast on October 22nd!

When this opera was new in 1905, it became the greatest musical scandal of the age (at least until the Rite of Spring exploded in Paris in 1911). People thought it was disgusting (Salome kissing the lips of the severed head of John the Baptist), the music ear-wrenching. It was banned in London, it closed after a single performance in New York City at the Met and took 13 years before it censors finally allowed it to be performed in Vienna. The original Salome refused to do the now-famous “Dance of the Seven Veils” because she was “a decent woman,” and so began the tradition of having a ballet dancer (thereby implying she was not a decent woman but that was okay) who stepped in to dance it instead.

Things have changed. Karita Matilla not only did her own dance, she even, briefly after shedding the seventh veil, appeared nude on stage (though this was not to be included in the HD-Transmission, we were informed). Times change, in a mere 103 years...

The next transmission is a very special one – a new production of an opera still new, premiered only in 2005 in San Francisco and by one of the leading composers writing today. John Adams’ Dr. Atomic, like his earlier operas, explores more modern historical events than opera usually brings to the stage, but focusing on timeless conflicts: behind the story of the first atomic bomb is the personal struggle between science and spirituality.

There’s background information on-line here – on the opera itself, the libretto, even a rehearsal blog! The dress rehearsal was open to 1,000 high school and college students, many of them science majors for whom opera itself might have been a whole new experience – certainly the opera for all of them, even those familiar with opera as a musical medium, would’ve been new.

Meanwhile over at The Rest Is Noisethe book-of-the-same-name just came out in paperback, btw: if you haven’t read it already, what are you waiting for?? – Alex Ross posts a rehearsal clip with Gerald Finley singing Robert Oppenheimer’s pivotal aria quoting John Donne’s “Batter My Heart, Three-person’d God.”

The first Met performance is this weekend, Saturday evening, October 18th – but it’s on the HD Schedule for Saturday November 8th beginning at 1:00 EST, a live transmission of that day’s matinee performance – perhaps at a theater near you! Some of these may also be carrying an encore transmission on November 19th - I see my neighborhood cineplex is offering this one also, so maybe I’ll go see it twice!

Even though most of my readers at Thoughts on a Train are not just from Central Pennsylvania – unlike my previous, now-defunct station-related blog – I’ll mention that I’m going to go see the “movie broadcast” about 3 miles from my house. You can find out how to locate a theater in your area that might be close enough!

If you get a chance to see it live at the Met, it’s scheduled through November 13th, so there’s not much chance to wait and see it after the HD-transmission and you just have to see it live in the house...

Another reason to be excited about this performance of Dr. Atomic: it’s the first opportunity for many of us outside of New York and other symphonic hot-spots to see the young conductor Alan Gilbert who will become the new music director of the New York Philharmonic next season.

Then later in the month, on November 22nd, the next HD-transmission will bring you the Met’s staged production of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust (I’m sure the proximity of these two stories is purely coincidental) which will also open the radio broadcast season on the 29th of November, guaranteed to brighten up the ol’ family gathering for your Thanksgiving Weekend.

For more information about the radio broadcasts, you can find a station in your area scheduled to broadcast the Saturday matinees. In Central Pennsylvania, that would be either WITF-FM (89.5) or WJAZ-FM (91.7). You can also listen to Met performances on Sirius satellite radio.

Highlights of the broadcast season will include an “archive” broadcast of Dr. Atomic in January, since the performance-run concludes before the broadcast season begins, and a complete cycle of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung beginning in March ‘09. I’m only sorry they didn’t offer The Ring in HD. But since they say this is going to be the last outing for its current production, perhaps they’re going to save the HD version for a new production already in the works?

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