Thursday, 26 February 2009

Dr Atomic ENO London (1)

My father had lived in a busy city (not Hiroshima). After the surrender, he returned to find the whole city bombed flat, nothing but rubble, no way to find your bearings except by following the line of hills. This really hit him as the view of the hills had formerly been obscured by what were then high rise buildings. Suddenly, all the building were gone. He hitched a ride on someone's bicycle and the two of them ventured into the eerie landscape. Every now and then there would be a dull thud – the sound of buried bodies exploding from the gas emitted by decay.

So I really didn't know how I was going to cope with John Adams' Dr Atomic. Would I stand up and cry "murderers "? Adams is concerned with the dilemmas faced by the scientists at Los Alamos who worked on the bomb, denying even to themselves where their research might lead. They live in a vacuum far removed from reality. True, they didn't make political decisions, but what they did gave politicians power. Recent studies indicate that the real purpose of the bomb was to scare Stalin. Japanese civilians were "collateral damage".
But Dr Atomic the opera is compelling. The scientists theorize, imagining the dangers to themselves. It's angst, even if it's more existential than actually being in the blast and living with the aftermath. Indeed, if images of the devastation are inescapably seared into your memory, it's even more haunting because you "know" what they're trying to avoid. This is a seriously good opera. Go, especially as there are £20 offers on tickets at the moment.

Edward Seckerson has written one of the most perceptive reviews so far. Read it and listen to the podcast where he interviews those involved with the production. Look up other posts on this blog under Hiroshima. It's not a subject "from the past", but utterly relevant to now.

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