My Year of Opera: July

Digest version as I get caught up on blog posts. The opera watching has been happening but the blog posts have been lacking. Here is what happened for July, the recurring theme was “American Opera.”

1. Doctor Atomic – John Adams

I watched this around July 4 because of irony. Musically, I enjoyed it. Story-wise, it was weak. The moment, the night before the atomic bomb test, is certainly ripe for emotional exploration. What I found lacking was the connective tissue of the story. Luckily I knew some of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poetry and that Oppenheimer was a fan of his work. When he just bursts out in “Batter My Heart” the opera hasn’t set up any context for that to happen. Characters weren’t introduced at all, or ever called by name at times, so I wasn’t sure why some people were there (from a plot point of view, musically things worked). Also, there is no action. This production was better than the one I fell asleep to on PBS a few years back.

2. The Fantasticks

My mother’s favorite musical. It was turned into a movie in 1995 and, while the story is cute, the movie didn’t make a good case for the musical. The music was a lot quirkier and less predictable than I expected. Oddly enough, my favorite song from the musical was one that was only used in the movie (it was a replacement for “It Depends on What you Pay” and was never recorded on any soundtrack). The movie made some bad choices in casting and tone and also edited out/rearranged stuff that weakened the whole work. I’m going to reserve final judgement until I see a different production.

3. Trouble in Tahiti – Bernstein

Now THIS is what opera should be. Perfectly scaled small cast, small story, with the direct/metaphorical plot issues in excellent balance. This is the kind of thing I want to write. Why isn’t it performed more? Or is it and I’m just not noticing? Based on my recent watching experience, it seemed like the model for Powder Her Face but in the suburbs without the sex.

4. Trapped in the Closet – R. Kelly

One of my students told me I should watch this for my project. Naturally, I knew Weird Al’s Trapped in the Drive-Thru extremely well but didn’t know the source material. I didn’t realize that Yankovic was doing a DIRECT parody of this song, I just thought he was doing a style parody. In general, I think this works well for the first oh, 10 chapters? Basically once the midget showed up I thought Kelly began running out of ideas. Then the story became a more and more preposterous series of coincidental connections. It became eye-rolling. And musically, the groove is certainly sustainable for a long time but 40-some minutes is excessive.

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