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<<  -- 4 --  Carson P Cooman    A THRILLING LAUNCH

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Given the subject matter and ideology involved, there is an inward darkness to much of the music in the opera. It has very little of the famous bounciness of Nixon in China and is different from the 'epic' scale of some of the famous choruses in Death of Klinghoffer.

The most memorable music in the work comes in the settings of the poetic insertions. For this reviewer, the most wonderful musical moment was Oppenheimer's extended aria that ends Act I. He sings entirely the text of John Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV -- 'Batter my heart, three person'd God; for you / As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend ...' It was, in fact, this sonnet which inspired Oppenheimer to name the bomb test site 'Trinity'.

The aria is a beautiful example of Adams's art. The sung moments use very simple lyric textures, interspersed with orchestral interludes of characteristic Adamsian rhythm and harmonic energy (during which Oppenheimer contemplates the hanging bomb -- eerily lit behind a scrim.)

The setting of Muriel Rukeyser's extended and moving poem Easter Eve, 1945 is sung by Kitty Oppenheimer at the start of Act II and is another memorable moment, with some particularly beautiful instrumental scoring. The setting of the Bhagavad Gita extract as a rhythmic and violent chorus recalls passages in earlier Adams work, such as the first movement of Harmonielehre. The scene also makes use of the most colorful lighting in the entire work.

Unfortunately, much of the dialogue and 'government documents' music is not nearly as memorable as the poetic settings. It feels wordy and bogged down at times -- and the opening minutes of the first act rely so heavily on this that the work gets off to a slow start.

John Adams
John Adams

Adams's orchestral scoring is, as expected, creative and tremendously colorful. However, it does, at times, seem to swamp the singers. This is not helped by numerous passages which place the singers very low in their vocal ranges, covered by active orchestral action.

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Copyright © 3 October 2005 Carson P Cooman, San Francisco, USA

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