Dr. Svet Atanasov
, March 2009
Composed by Pulitzer-prize winner John Adams, on a libretto by Peter Sellars, Doctor Atomic is an opera in two acts recreating the final days at the Manhattan Project Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bomb was first tested. The opera premiered in San Francisco on October 1, 2005.
Incorporating declassified official US documents into its libretto, Doctor Atomic certainly surprises with its unconventional subject matter. Yes, we know how its story ends but that is hardly what makes the opera so intriguing—it is the main characters, their words and actions before the atomic bomb is tested that are fascinating to behold.
Doctor Atomic is also an opera with heavy political overtones. Though the declassified texts from the libretto have not been intentionally manipulated, the manner in which they are incorporated into the story certainly recreates some of the key events surrounding the first atomic bomb testing in a way that encourages us to think about America’s current superpower status as well as its leaders (Peter Sellars offers his thoughts on this very issue in an interview that you could find amongst the extra features).
The production of Doctor Atomic recorded for this Blu-ray disc is courtesy of the San Francisco Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and De Nederlandse Opera. Unsurprisingly, Doctor Atomic is terrifically staged—Peter Sellars’ perfectionist style is very easy to recognize—and performed in a manner that must have delighted John Adams. The emphasis on detail in particular is simply incredible and the sense of paranoia that apparently tormented those who were involved with the atomic test that took place at the Manhattan Project Laboratory in Los Alamos is very convincingly recreated.
This is yet another stellar addition to Opus Arte’s excellent catalog of opera releases. The 1080i transfer is very impressive—contrast is exceptionally strong, clarity very pleasing and motion-judder not a serious issue of concern. The color-scheme is also lovely. Furthermore, the HD cameras capture the stage from all sorts of different angles and, as far as I am concerned, there aren’t shadow issues to report here either (there are a few light reflections, however, that I was able to spot which may or may not annoy some of you). On the other hand, the close ups look very strong. Finally, I did not detect any image deteriorations to report here. (Note: This is a Region-Free release which you will be able to play on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location).
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and English Dolby TrueHD 2.0. Well, unlike Opus Arte’s Blu-ray treatment of Mozart’s Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail where I detected a few issues with the audio presentation, Doctor Atomic is very much up to the high-standards we have come to expect from the distributor. I viewed the entire opera with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the Dolby TrueHD 2.0 track for the purpose of this review. The first thing I would like to note is that the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is indeed very convincing. There are a number of unusual sound effects in Doctor Atomic that have been captured by the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track exceptionally well. Furthermore, there aren’t any balance issues that I could detect either (the balance between the chorus, the soloists and the orchestra is very good). Second, the quality of the sound mixing of the actual production is far more convincing than that of Mozart’s Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail.
The Dolby TrueHD 2.0 track is also of high quality, but I certainly would not recommend that you opt for it when you view Doctor Atomic. The sound effects I mentioned above are far better captured by the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and, as far as balance is concerned, there aren’t any major improvements here that I could point out to you. This being said, Opus Arte have supplied optional English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish subtitles for the main feature.
Doctor Atomic arrives with a lovely 32-page booklet containing a very informative article titled “Doctor Atomic: John Adams’ Operatic Countdown”, courtesy of Thomas May, editor of Decoding Wagner and The John Adams Reader. A version of the article was originally published in the program book of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The article is offered in English, French, and German.
On the actual Blu-ray disc, you will find a narrated synopsis for the opera, a cast gallery, and four mini documentaries—The Opera, The Cast, The Composer, and The Direction. In addition, there is a fantastic interview with Peter Sellars where he deconstructs Doctor Atomic and explains how it relates to America’s modern history.
It took me a couple of days to go through the entire opera and all of the great supplemental features Opus Arte have provided for it, and all I could say is that this is indeed a very impressive package. Not only is the actual production of top-notch quality, but the extras that are provided on this disc are just as fascinating (Peter Sellars’ interview is terrific). Yes, Doctor Atomic comes Very Highly Recommended.