William Shakespeare

The Bard of Our Time?

Well, the reviews are already out there. I didn’t read them before writing this, but perhaps you did. If so, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The LA Times, Rotten Tomatoes, and whoever else you read about films have already told you that Roland Emmerich‘s Anonymous is little more than a showcase for pretty boys to strut about in gorgeous, historically inauthentic costumes, speaking anachronistic lines and participating in fictional events. There is a good deal of beautiful skin bared, along with some not-so-lovely skin (please, keep your tights on). It is good for a few laughs: the buffoon Will Shakespeare (played by Rafe Spall) has his well-timed (if neither original nor accurate) Oscar acceptance moment, and Mark Rylance as Henry Condell spices up the chorus of Henry V with a little horsey impression. Indeed, I laughed through most of the movie, but for mostly the wrong reasons: I was incredulous, amused, and bemused by its clichés, its psychological implausibility, and its lavish big-budget spectacular emptiness. I laughed, too, as a critic and scholar, at the clumsy cuts and flashbacks (is that golden boy the Earl of Essex now, or the Earl of Oxford then? Is that one Queen Elizabeth’s lover, or son, or . . . ew), at the few nods to research (the alternative titles of Twelfth Night, or, As You Like It — really, that’s about as deep as it gets, so don’t worry if you haven’t quite finished that PhD in Early Modern Studies), and especially at the [not-so-] surprise Oedipal ending.

You see, this movie didn’t make up its mind. It could have been an educational immersion in 16th-century England that plunged its audience into the sights, sounds, and society of Elizabeth’s and James’s reigns. Or it could have been a watertight case for the Earl of Oxford’s authorship, ravishing the minds of its viewers with compelling evidence that he was the man who wrote “Shakespeare.” Or it could have been just a good movie.

But in it, Christopher Marlowe (Trystan Gravelle) dies at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. The Earl of Essex (Sam Reid) commissions a performance of Richard III (it was Richard II). A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed before Queen Elizabeth I (played by mother-and-daughter Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson) and court in the 1550s with de Vere as proclaimed author, then performed again in the 1590s as “anonymous”: the Queen remembers it perfectly, while everyone else forgets it entirely. Doublethink? Or blooper? Henry V is de Vere’s first play presented under Shakespeare’s name at the Globe, to huge crowds and wild acclaim. Its manuscript is found, at the end of the movie, among the secret plays Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) is supposed to publish after the Earl’s death. Subtlety, or stupidity? The Earl of Oxford (played by Rhys Ifans and Jamie Campbell Bower) delivers a speech about the material power of literature-as-propaganda that would not have been possible unless he had read Marx. A piece of Mozart is played at his wedding. Ben Johnson, Queen Elizabeth, and Shakespeare himself share a nineteenth-century, Romantic psychology about authorship, artistry, and individuality. The thing is a mess.

And while that Will Shakespeare, in the pastiche world of the film, could not conceivably have written those plays, and that Earl of Oxford probably could, there is no attempt to present a scholarly case for de Vere’s historical authorship. Dozens of books abound, scholarly, popular, objective, and partisan alike, that lay out a persuasive case either against Will of Stratford as author, or for de Vere Earl of Oxford as author. I’m a staunch Stratfordian, and I could probably lay out a better case for Oxford’s authorship than that film did.

I think I will. Here goes.

So, there’s this kid named Will Shakespeare, who is from a working-class family, may have gone to the local school, didn’t go to college, labored as a low-class actor (disreputable trade, that) in London, invested in real estate, dealt in grain and brewing, retired early, and was obviously more interested in money than literature. His wife and daughters were illiterate. He didn’t leave anybody any books or papers in his will. His name is spelt two different ways on the three pages of his will, and it’s known that illiterate people sometimes had their lawyers or other representatives sign their names for them. How could such a person, with no connections at court, little knowledge of classical training, no travels abroad, and a decidedly avaricious turn of mind be the author of the immortal and sublime canon?

On the other hand, there is Edward de Vere. As a nobleman, he would have received the best education of his day. He was raised by the Cecil family: both Cecils, father and son (Robert is played by Edward Hogg, William by David Thewlis) served in turn on Elizabeth’s privy council, essentially running the empire as unofficial equivalents to today’s Prime Minister. De Vere spent a good deal of time at court, traveled to Italy, saw the Commedia dell’arte, spoke several languages, stabbed a man through a tapestry, had three daughters (think Lear’s), lost his beloved first wife Anne (think the love-comedies or the bereaved Macbeth’s sorrowful speech), was known as a successful playwright (of comedies), blah, blah, blah. Oh, he died 12 years too early, but somebody else slowly produced and published his plays posthumously.

The movie touches on some of these themes, mostly visually without comment or discussion, and makes its persuasive case more on painting Shakespeare in a poor light than on investigating documents and conditions. But is that really the point? I don’t think so.

James Shapiro’s recent, brilliant book Contested Will takes a different approach to the authorship question, and one I would like to appropriate here. Although the sections of his book are entitled “Shakespeare,” “Bacon,” “Oxford,” and “Shakespeare,” respectively, he is less interested in presenting and critiquing the case for each man’s authorship than in psychoanalyzing the people who believe so-and-so or so-and-so wrote the plays.

Instead of asking, “Did the Earl of Oxford write the plays?” Shapiro asks why Freud, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, and others believed that the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays — and why did they believe this then, and there? What were the material, social, and psychological conditions that led them to accept an arguably ridiculous theory?

That is what I want to ask. Why this movie, why this message, here and now?

For the message is a strange one in this world. The message of Anonymous is essentially that a normal guy, an average middle-class fellow, could not achieve greatness. Why this message, now, when the “little guy” (or girl) is occupying the public square, storming the financial district, toppling dictators, and instituting democracy? If the little fellow, or the young person with an ordinary education, can overthrow a government, why can’t he write a few dozen popular plays?

Shapiro, in the end, lays out a very persuasive case for William of Stratford’s authorship, primarily based on the playwright’s intimate knowledge with the acting company (the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men), the theatres (the Theatre, the Rose, the Globe . . . ), and the material conditions of acting in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, especially the new conditions that arose when Shakespeare’s acting company moved to the indoor Blackfriar’s Theatre after Edward de Vere’s death. I am convinced by his scholarly, readable case. I am not convinced by the conspiracy-theory attitude of Anonymous, in which everybody from the Queen herself through her privy council down to Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, and Thomas Nashe know the royal secrets. The film makes it appear that anybody at all who was paying attention could have figured out that Will didn’t write the plays, Edward did, yet that the thinking and unwashed masses alike have been mysteriously duped ever since. It doesn’t hang together. I suppose it appeals to the kind of mind that wants to believe NASA never put a man on the moon,  JFK was killed by the U.S. Government, 9-11 was an inside job, and the like.

Sure, there were personal and practical considerations in making this movie, such as Roland Emmerich’s private interest in the story and the need to wait until Shakespeare in Love fervor died down so patrons would flock to the box office for another movie “like that.” Well, it isn’t like that. And since Anonymous was pulled from national release and only available in limited theatres, I couldn’t even bring my eager literature students, fresh off of Hamlet, to see it. Instead, I slogged through the slush-puppy misery of an October snowstorm to see it in lower Manhattan.

But my big question still remains: if Romanticism is dead, the Disney gospel indoctrinates children everywhere with the message that “You can do anything you believe you can do,” and democracy is sweeping the globe, why this message that it takes an aristocrat to write truly great plays? There is something more than conspiracy theory at work here, I believe. There is a more subtle kind of elitism that can be revealed by a Structuralist analysis.

You see, the surface message of the movie appears to fit in nicely with a world packed with people’s revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and — in a more limited sense — Wall Street. It seems to speak to the masses’ discontent with “the present administration.” This superficial plotline is based on the obstensible reason for Edward de Vere’s anonymity: the movie reads the plays as covert anti-establishment pieces of propaganda. This accounts for the substitution of Richard III for Richard II; besides being a better-known play, it also presents a clear villain, a hunchback who could represent Robert Cecil and inflame the crowd to support Essex’s (failed) rebellion.

Well, then, you may ask, doesn’t that make perfect sense, here and now? Cecil could stand in for Hosni Mubarak, Moammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, or the current American antagonist — who is variously and vaguely defined as a Wall Street CEO, a corrupt bank manager, Congress, the President, or the Apple corporation (as the Occupiers vigorously tweet out their discontents).

But that’s not the real story. The real story is that Edward de Vere has no desire to overthrow the establishment. He only desires to step into a space in the establishment, preferably as king, but as merely the king’s adviser if that’s all he can get. He doesn’t want to change the system. He wants the system to remain exactly as it is, and to fit himself and his friends and relatives into the spaces in the structure. Were I writing in Colonial America in, say 1770, I would shout, “Tory!”

So maybe that is why this movie never made it to the top ten (and the weekend it came out, Puss in Boots was #1). It’s pretty, sure. It’s fun, definitely. But maybe the average movie-goers are smarter than Ronald Emmerich gave them credit for, and maybe they didn’t want to swallow elitism along with anachronism in a soup of weak conspiracy-theory. That is a lot to swallow.


Star Trek
in the Park

William Shakespeare’s Statue in Central Park.
Photo: Peter Roan

This was going to be a very intelligent article. After using this space previously to gush about summer blockbusters and iPhones, I meant for this month’s subject matter to be smarter – or, at least, headier.

I fully intended to go for that most of academic of topics, the kind of thing you would have to read in one browser tab with Wikipedia open in another. Nothing less than the plays of the Bard himself – and, specifically, his comedy Twelfth Night – as recently and majestically performed by The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park in Manhattan’s Central Park was, you must know, my starting point.

Except, it’s Monday night and Monday night is (for those of you who still pay for cable) the night that the SciFi Channel airs four hours of back-to-back episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

So I have Star Trek on the brain, and yet I do very much want to share thoughts on this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park. And, if you’ll bear with me, I think we will find more connections between the works of Gene Roddenberry and those of Shakespeare than just the actor Patrick Stewart.

I assert that the plays of Shakespeare are heady and academic with my tongue in my cheek. The way Shakespeare is taught in high schools – and in some cases, colleges – is a misreading of what the man’s purpose was, what he meant for his plays to do. In this way, and without too much uncomfortable stretching, we come to our first similarity between Shakespeare’s plays and the continuing mission that is Star Trek: they are dramas performed in distinct acts, and they have it as their purpose to entertain, enlighten, and engage their audience.

It’s just as difficult to summarize the plot of Twelfth Night as it is to attempt to explain how time travel works in the Star Trek universe. I will say that Twelfth Night involves not one but two cases of mistaken identity, cross-dressing, possible homosexual relationships, and one of the greatest and least understood phrases Shakespeare ever wrote, at least contextually:

Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.

As it turns out, in the context of Twelfth Night these words are not spoken by way of motivation, as they often are used in our culture; rather, they are part of a ruse, a plot to embarrass a character that neither the audience nor the other characters much like. And, in the hands of the excellent cast of The Public’s presentation, this line actually carried with it the appropriate measure of innuendo as well. In short, even this most inspiring of moments, this most serious and heavy charge is, in context, a joke, a bit of entertainment.

Another very important similarity: both works are heavily influenced by their predecessors. At one time among so-called Shakespeare scholars it was very popular to actually try to debunk the Bard. People saw obvious similarities between Shakespeare’s plays and a number of sources that came before him (or, in the case of Christopher Marlowe, works written contemporaneously) and drew conclusions, painting Shakespeare in many shades of crook from plagiarizer to front man to myth.

These days (read: postmodernity) most accept that every story is a re-telling of some story that came before it, or, as my mother and King Solomon like to say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” And this is fine with us. It is expected. We don’t and shouldn’t tolerate plagiarism, but we also do not fly off the handle every time something seems like something else.

For a more recent example, see the almost-conspiracy around that other widely read British author, J.K. Rowling. At the height of her fame (is she still at the height? will she ever come down?) many people accused her of lifting her tale from Adrian Jacobs’ The Adventures of Willy the Wizard. This is still being worked out in the courts, but barring some major shift, in perpetuity no one will care much that there once was a story about a wizard named Willy that bears many similarities to the more famous Harry.

Star Trek, too, is packed with other people’s stories, be it highly inventive retellings of Greek classics, verbatim performances of Sherlock Holmes and even, it turns out, many examples of Shakespeare’s plays being appropriated and adapted to the twenty-fourth century.

Shakespeare’s plays can be crude and funny, sad and moving, mystical and romantic, and any combination of these things. Mostly, though, they do what the best stories do. Elizabethan English makes them seem untouchably highbrow, but even this would have been funny to Shakespeare because much of his language, to his contemporaries, would have seemed base and coarse, as it suited the characters.

Imagine what the English language will sound like 400 years into the future; imagine how the works of Gene Roddenberry will sound to readers then. Will they be any more “highbrow” because they’re old? Certainly not.

Admittedly, Star Trek probably won’t be read or performed like Shakespeare’s plays are today. I don’t see there ever being a “Roddenberry in the Park.” Shakespeare is certainly on a higher level, but let’s not put him too high up on the pedestal.

Twelfth Night in Central Park ended its run on July 12, back here in the 21st century. It was truly fantastic, with an amazing cast that featured Anne Hathaway opposite several well-regarded Broadway actors. If you missed it, take heart: Shakespeare in the Park will be back next summer with Othello, and in the meantime The Public Theater’s next production, The Bacchae by Euripides, begins August 11.

And Star Trek: The Next Generation is on the SciFi network every Monday night. Make time for both, make time for it all: the plays of Shakespeare, the space operas of Gene Roddenberry, the blue notes of Miles Davis, and the crooning of Duncan Sheik. Find entertainment, enlightenment, and engaging stories wherever you can; really, they’re all around us.

Doctor Atomic or: How Opera Learned
to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Few productions this season at the Metropolitan Opera are receiving the kind of attention and publicity that the new production of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic has. The Met’s innovative general manager, Peter Gelb, has given his full support to the production, including the significant addition of the first permanent sound system in the Met theater to play the recorded sounds (musique concrete) that are part of Adams’ musical score.

Adams composed Doctor Atomic at the request of then general director of the San Francisco Opera, Pamela Rosenberg, who wanted an American version of the Faust legend and thought that J. Robert Oppenheimer’s story would be a good fit. The opera premiered in 2005 in San Francisco, and has since been performed in Amsterdam and Chicago, before the new production was created this year for the Met, an unusual turn for an opera this young. The strong cast is headed by an excellent Gerald Finley, who premiered the role of Oppenheimer and has sung it in every production since then. This, combined with the innovative design crew of director Penny Woolcock (directing her first stage opera after a career in film) and stage designer, Julian Crouch (known for his theatrical work), has generated great excitement and some controversy in the opera world about the new production. I came to the performance with every desire that it succeed and, while I found it an exciting and thought-provoking night of theater, in the end I felt it disappointed as opera. I found myself wondering if it would make a better symphonic choral piece, or as one friend suggested, an oratorio, although the theatrical possibilities seem to demand a dramatic setting. While there is much that is praise-worthy about the production, and it is definitely worth seeing, I do not believe it ultimately succeeds as an opera.

Adams says he believes that in order to be relevant, contemporary opera must address the issues of our lives. His past operas such as Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer (about the hijacking of the Achille Lauro) have pointedly addressed contemporary topics, and Doctor Atomic is no exception. It focuses on the final twelve hours before the testing of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity site in Los Alamos, NM, but also attempts to tell the story of the scientists and soldiers who built the bomb. The libretto for Doctor Atomic is unique in that it was compiled by Peter Sellars from a variety of found sources. Adams describes the process in an article for NewMusicBox:

The libretto to Doctor Atomic . . . contains everything from interview transcripts with physicists and other people involved in the creation of the bomb to declassified government documents, memoirs by Edward Teller and General Groves, and even poetry by Baudelaire, John Donne, and from the Bhagavad Gita. Oppenheimer was an immensely literate scientist, and he held poetry, especially these works, dear to his heart. In fact, in the agonizingly tense hours leading up to the Trinity test shot, while other scientists relaxed by playing poker and making a betting pool on the bomb’s yield, Oppenheimer went off by himself, took out a copy of Baudelaire poetry and tried to calm himself by reading a few stanzas. (No wonder the FBI found him a deeply suspect individual!)

During a panel discussion on the making of Doctor Atomic (with John Adams, Peter Gelb, Penny Woolcock, and Julian Crouch), it was obvious that all of those involved in the making of the opera had become fascinated with the characters and stories that intersected in the creation of the atomic bomb. From the disciplined military general Leslie Groves tasked to oversee the wide variety of “crackpot” scientists assembled to invent the bomb, to the conflicted character of Kitty Oppenheimer, a scientist in her own right who was frustrated by her “faculty wife” position in Los Alamos, to the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer himself, a highly intelligent scientist with wide literary and aesthetic interests who was both inspired by and conflicted about the making of the bomb, the people and history of this time period are clearly a rich mine of creative inspiration. The concept of a libretto composed of these peoples’ documents and recorded conversations, combined with poetry that influenced them, seemed like a compelling and innovative way to set this contemporary story.

Unfortunately, the libretto turns out to be the greatest flaw in Doctor Atomic. I came away from the performance feeling that I had seen very little in the way of character development or story, and had I not heard the panel discussion, would have understood almost nothing about who any of these people were or what drove them. The effect of hearing snippets of telegrams and classified reports, along with official letters, excerpts from books on atomic energy combined with lengthy poems (some of which related more directly to the topic at hand than others), left me feeling I had heard a rather disjointed and vague documentary, rather than watched real characters come alive on a stage. Without a clearer story line or some insight into the personal reflections of the characters (something a standard opera libretto is well able to do), I was left feeling that the people on stage were mere ciphers, acting as the mouthpiece for a specific perspective on the history of the bomb.

Points of Entry
‚Ä¢ Check out the Metropolitan Opera’s special “minisite” for Doctor Atomic, including features, video, historical background, event listings, and a rehearsal blog.
• There are several upcoming performances of Doctor Atomic at the Met. See dates and times and purchase tickets on their website.
• Not in New York? Select movie theaters around the world will be showing uDoctor Atomic in HD on November 8 at 1:00pm ET.

Kitty Oppenheimer’s character was one of the best examples of this problem. While she was, by all reports, a fascinating and intelligent woman who both encouraged her husband’s success in building the bomb and yet was frustrated by her narrow role at Los Alamos, in the opera she is given only long, rambling settings of poetry (mostly of Muriel Rukeyser) that depict her as some sort of archetypal “eternal feminine,” serving only as a moral reminder of the consequences of the bomb. She is joined in several of her scenes by Pasqualita, a fictional Native American maid who represents the real population of Tewa Pueblo Indians who were trucked in every day to do the menial work at Los Alamos. Pasqualita also functions mainly as a stereotype – the pagan earth mother.

In the panel discussion, Woolcock discussed how intrigued she was by the combination of the differing worldviews of the three groups working together at Los Alamos. One of the effective ways she portrayed their differences was in designing different walks for the different characters, based on descriptions from the time. The Tewa people all move very slowly, in marked contrast to the scientists and soldiers who tend to rush about. The scientists lead with their heads, while the soldiers lead with their chests. Much less effective was one of the scenes of nervous anticipation before the bomb’s first test explosion where the Tewa were arrayed across the top of the set wearing animal headdresses and stern expressions. Below them, the chattering groups of scientists make wagers on the energy load of the bomb explosion and worry about safety concerns. While there are interesting comparisons to be made between these diverse groups of people and their varying worldviews, the directing, musical score and libretto rarely made these distinctions in human and nuanced ways, more often lapsing into cliché.

But there is another problem. An opera libretto is the bones upon which the meaning, found in the music and the sung voice, must be hung. The strange effect of this is that more banal librettos can actually make better operas, while lines of erudite poetry can fail to come alive when set to music. One reason for this is that poetry is written to be read and re-read, not set in a musical tempo in which the words flash by more quickly than they can be comprehended and savored. Secondly, some of the greatest lyrical poetry already contains so much music in the words, that to add sung music in an attempt to transcend it succeeds only in diluting its power. A good example of this can be found in the introduction to Donald Jay Grout’s A Short History of Opera, where he quotes this passage from Shakespeare:

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

Grout compares it to a selection from Nahum Tate’s Dido and Aeneas:

When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast. Remember me, but ah!
Forget my fate.

As Grout says of the passage from The Tempest, “it would require a composer of genius equal to Shakespeare’s to add music to such lines as these.” The second selection, while lesser poetry, serves as the perfect bones to one of the most heart-rending arias in operatic history. To be a good libretto, the words need to point to an emotional expression that only music can fully express.

Unfortunately, many of the Baudelaire and Rukeyser poems in the Doctor Atomic libretto function better as poetry than libretto, leaving the audience confused by long soliloquies that are hard to follow and convey little clear emotion, especially when they are not supported by a story line or the personal thoughts of the characters speaking them. Strangely enough, however, the setting of the John Donne poem, Batter my heart, three-person’d God, an aria for Oppenheimer that ends the first act, is one of the more effective and beautiful parts of the opera. Donne would appear to be a poet, like Shakespeare, whose words are so full of meaning and expression that it is hard to imagine music being an effective addition to them. In this case however, this particular poem being sung by Oppenheimer at this particular point in the story (as he contemplates the finished yet untested bomb he has built), adds a weight of personal meaning that the music is well-suited here to support and elucidate. This poem was one of Oppenheimer’s favorite poems (he said later that the bomb test site Trinity was named for it), and Adams sees it as Oppenheimer’s true prayer that God batter him, so that those divided parts of himself that see both the bomb’s beauty and its destruction could be made whole again. Gerald Finley masterfully portrays Oppenheimer’s soul-searching in this aria.

Other parts of the libretto see strong uses of some poetic fragments, such as the chorus’ lines from the Bhagavad Gita in response to the sight of the bomb:

At the sight of this, your Shape stupendous,
Full of mouths and eyes, feet, thighs and bellies,
Terrible with fangs, O master,
All the worlds are fear-struck, even just as I am.

The use of recorded sounds (musique concrete), in opera is still relatively unusual and controversial in some circles. Adams remains very committed to the use of recorded sound in his composition, since he believes that modern composers should be using the sound-making tools of the day as instruments, even as composers of the past adapted their music to newly invented instruments. I can understand his desire to have metallic and mechanical sounds present in his portrayal of the building of the atomic bomb, but I was disappointed by the way this sound seemed to stand outside the musical score, rather than being woven into it in a way that would truly recognize it as another musical instrument. Both of the opera’s two acts begin with an extended period of recorded sounds meant to set the stage by evoking both the era and the mood of the Los Alamos site. Strangely, each of these was a mish-mash of vague, overlapping sounds that seemed poorly recorded and oddly combined. I’ve heard better sound design in other theater shows, and the extended sequences left me longing for the presence and energy of the orchestral sound, which, when it entered, effectively left the recorded sound behind. Oddly enough, I did not notice much other musique concrete in the rest of the score, except for the end of the opera, where it is used very effectively in the countdown to the bomb explosion. The drawn-out final countdown and the quiet aftermath of the explosion are the most powerful moments in the opera and are worth attending the opera to hear and feel. It is here that Adams’ vision of using contemporary themes and modern technology to make opera relevant is most clearly realized.

A more controversial use of technology in Adams’ operas is that he requires that the singers be lightly miked, because he says that “this allows them to sing more effortlessly and it also makes the text intelligible.” This is highly controversial in opera because the wonderful resonance of the human voice cannot be fully captured by a microphone, and historically, miking voices has not produced effortless singing as much as it has bad singing technique. While some opera singers may bellow (a critique of Adams’), good technique allows a singer to fill a hall over the sound of an orchestra without requiring obvious effort. Thankfully there was no obvious sound of the singers’ voices coming through the speakers at the Met, but I did notice that an over-emphasis on pronunciation of words seemed to be interfering with the tonal quality of the singing at times. This seemed most noticeable with Sasha Cooke, who nonetheless sang a strong and lovely performance of Kitty Oppenheimer.

The preeminence of words, above the music and the voices, causes many of the problems in Doctor Atomic. I also came away from this performance having reaffirmed that I do not come to the opera to be told how to think about something, I come to the opera to have people and history come alive for me. There were scenes in Doctor Atomic where this happened in breathtaking ways, but they left me wishing the rest of the opera had risen to this standard.