I returned to Doctor Atomic on Tuesday, October 18. This time, I sat in ZZ-101. It's in the very last row of the orchestra section, and right on the center aisle. Once again, the voice/orchestra balances were fine - and this time, I have a possible explanation for why I found the balances good on opening night, from X-105, but Alex Ross and Anthony Tommasini, sitting quite a bit farther forward, did not.
You may have noticed that the opera is selling fewer standing room tickets this season than last season, "for technical reasons." A honking big sound board is taking up a good chunk of the orchestra-level standing room, and it's there for Doctor Atomic. I took a careful look at it Tuesday night and found that the sliders on it are labeled by instrument: "Harp", "Celesta", and so on.
Mark Grey, the sound designer for the production, is the guy on the sound board. If he's got control over balances and amplification to that extent, and he's waaaaaay back in center field, no wonder the balances sound better from the back of the orchestra than the middle. Anyone reading this - how does Doctor Atomic sound, balance-wise, from elsewhere in the theater? Comments especially appreciated from anyone who has been to more than one performance.
About the opera - why, yes, I liked it the second time, too. I found the first half of Act I talkier and drier than the first time through, and Adams's trademark ostinati more in evidence when I spent more time listening to the orchestra than the words. But I thought "Am I in your light?" and everything through to the end just as strong as on opening night.
More interestingly, I thought the first half of Act II just fantastic. My notes from the premiere referring to "Bartokian night-music" and "Wagner" are all about the sequence from Kitty to Pasqualita to Robert Wilson dreaming about the tower (...falling...falling). That sequence contains some of the most beautiful and evocative music in all opera, I think. My previous comments on Act II focussed primarily on the structural issues with the close, and I expect I didn't sufficiently communicate the beauties of the earlier half of the act.
Don't ask me about the ending, which M. C- says has changed. I had a busy weekend, including an early-morning trip to the new de Young Museum, and dozed off during the countdown, awakening to a huge drumroll at the moment of detonation. My partner agreed with me that there's a structure problem at the end. She loved the Vishnu chorus, but also though it was the detonation.
M. C- will have more to say about the changes, I believe. Keep an eye on The Standing Room.