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Gramophone, November 2010

This DVD from Holland catches Finley’s transfixing, astonishingly detailed and intense creation of the role of Oppenheimer in John Adams’s opera.




Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, November 2009

ADAMS, J.: Doctor Atomic (DNO, 2007) (NTSC) OA0998D
ADAMS, J.: Doctor Atomic (DNO, 2007) (Blu-ray, NTSC) OABD7020D

Doctor Atomic…deals with big issues in an intellectually challenging way, with music that’s architecturally grand, yet rich in its detailing—arguably the best, in fact, that John Adams has produced… if you’re willing to give the DVD of the Netherlands production a chance, I think you’ll find yourself knocked out.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.



Raymond Tuttle
Classical Net, February 2009

All in all, Doctor Atomic is one of the most impressive new operas I have seen in some time, although one could argue it is difficult not to be impressive when your subject is the atomic bomb!

The Dutch production recorded here (live, although I was not aware of the audience) comes almost two years after the San Francisco premiere, and I gather some changes were made to the opera during that interval. All the male members of the original cast are repeating their roles here, and they are a memorable lot! The newcomers are the women. Soprano Jessica Rivera has a strong stage presence as Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty, and she negotiates the jaggedly expressive writing with confidence, and with a powerful yet always attractive sound. As Pasqualita, the Oppenheimer’s Tewa nurse, Ellen Rabiner has a problematic role. If you’ve been cast as the voice of the Earth, there isn’t a lot that you can do with that, and Rabiner doesn’t have the voice or the charisma to overcome that. She’s the only character who doesn’t rant, however. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth to call Doctor Atomic a 170-minute mad scene for seven characters.

Speaking of mad scenes, baritone Gerald Finley’s performance of the title role astonishes, particularly at the end of act I, where he sings an extended solo whose text is based on the Holy Sonnets of John Donne. Finley’s intensity throughout the opera exhausted even me; I can’t imagine what he feels by the end of a performance. The beauty of his voice makes it hard to lose sympathy for Oppenheimer. In fact, using the tools that Adams and Sellars have given him, Finley helps us to understand Oppenheimer’s controversial character better, and to put ourselves in his shoes.

Doctor Atomic could have been pretentious and preachy, but it is neither of those things. I hesitate to call the music “great,” because I feel that its primary function is to serve as a scaffold for the libretto. Take away the text and it would be diminished greatly. Still, if Adams’s music is primarily scaffolding, it is scaffolding of the highest quality. (I suppose the text would be just as diminished if Adams’s music were taken away!) The important thing is that Adams work here has a white-hot intensity and commitment which—to my ears—has been missing from some of his more recent work. To a degree, Doctor Atomic brings back the John Adams I knew and loved—the Adams of Harmonium and The Wound-Dresser.

The first DVD contains a cast gallery and an illustrated synopsis. The second contains four short documentaries about the opera, the cast, John Adams, and Peter Sellars, and a longer, preachier interview with Sellars. You won’t miss much by skipping any of them, but the “mini documentaries” probably are worth watching once. Visually, the High Definition DVD (16:9 anamorphic) is a treat. The rapid editing and close camera-work create a tension which compensates for not being physically present in Amsterdam’s Muziektheater. Even the occasionally artsy-crazy camera angles feel right. The sound (LPCM Stereo and DTS Digital Surround) also has tremendous impact…and there’s plenty of ominous rumbling in Doctor Atomic!

We are only two weeks into 2009, but when I compile my list of favorite CD and DVD releases of 2009, I am confident that Doctor Atomic will be on it.



ClassicalCDReview.com, January 2009

Doctor Atomic is John Adams’ opera about building the first atomic bomb and its detonation. Focusing on the personal agonies of all involved, it is powerful, disturbing opera. The music effectively underlines the darkness of the shattering episode as each character questions the wisdom of what they are doing. On this DVD we see the Netherlands Opera 2007 Peter Sellers production with a strong cast throughout, Gerald Finley and Jessica Rivera perfect as the Oppenheimers. This past season the Metropolitan Opera presented their own production of Doctor Atomic directed by Penny Woolcock with Alan Gilbert on the podium and both Finley and Fink repeating their roles from this Dutch presentation. I didn’t see this when it was shown in theaters, but have heard it is superior in most ways, particularly the shuddering ending, in which, as the final countdown is heard, the stage turns totally dark. If you are interested in this opera, wait for the Met version which undoubtledly will be issued on DVD.




Philip Clark
Gramophone, December 2008

Adams’s Oppenheimer opera divides opinions—but here receives a fine performance

I don’t know if there’s a causal link, but Doctor Atomic is the most dramatic subject matter of any John Adams opera and musically the most inconsistent. Indeed, as subject matter goes, Doctor Atomic could hardly be more apocalyptic.

The work’s principal character is J Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who developed the atomic bomb during the Second World War from its earliest prototype through to the test bomb that was detonated in 1945 at a secret site in New Mexico. The opera’s first act takes place a month before the test; the second act is set on the day itself, with a finale that strategically plays with our perception of time as the bomb is about to be detonated. Adams’s first opera, Nixon in China, rattled along with a note-specific clarity that flickered like newsreel; he paints Doctor Atomic in broader brushstrokes, using post-Bernard Herrmann suspense tactics and angsty chromatic swells to portray charged emotions. But an underlying weakness is the stubbornly unmemorable and melodically colourless vocal writing (the violin in writing in Adams’s Violin Concerto suffers comparable problems), leading to one-dimensional characterisations. Adams’s and librettist Peter Sellars’s decision to incorporate poetry by John Donne and Muriel Rukeyser into the opera only highlights the functional flavour of Sellars’s own words as the balance is flipped towards contrived artifice. No complaints about the performance though. Gerald Finley carries the problems of the world on his shoulders as Oppenheimer and the Netherlands Philharmonic and Lawrence Renes play like it’s the best score since Fidelio.






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2:58:24 AM, 12 July 2014
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