24 March 2009

Much about Germany, and the War, of late. There´s been an interesting confluence of things. As a jobette I have been working on translations of teenagers´ diaries from the Second World War, truly amazing documents of experience written by young people living through the conflict in Japan, Britain, France, Germany, the US, the USSR. My job has been to polish up the literals, hopefully to make them read nicely, give them more in the way of flow. The material is really eye-opening, jaw-dropping, stomach-churning and all-round affecting and moving, and when the book comes out (it´s being co-edited by a good friend) it´ll be a valuable addition to the mountain of WW2 literature. For a prospective job, a thing in the offing, I have been delving into Brecht´s anti-Nazi writings, and for bedtime reading (!) there is Anthony Beevor´s gripping, frightening Berlin, The Downfall 1945. Then there was Dr Atomic, last Friday. I was admittedly dazed after a long day - I had woken in my mum´s house in Cumbria, and gone with her to a hospital appointment in the morning, before taking the train. But by the time I staggered home on the tube at 10.30 or so I was dismayed at what I could only see as a terribly wasted opportunity. John Adams´s opera, with Peter Sellars and Alice Goodman, the one that goes by the name of Nixon In China - well to me that is as close to dramatic perfection as I´ve seen, an opera that qualifies as great theatre, with a stunningly original libretto (hate the term, it´s a script isn´t it) by Goodman that has such breadth, height and complexity that I don´t know where to begin. The scenario for Dr Atomic, and the libretto, to my mind, suffer greatly by any comparison. The production is excellent, can´t be faulted, and the music is - though with Tom Green I feel unqualified to pass any detailed comment - consistently incredible. All the more reason to ask then, what is going on with that script / scenario? As most people have said, the close of Act One, where Oppenheimer sings the John Donne poem Batter My Heart, is sublime and powerful. But it is an isolated incident, in more ways than one - nothing in the characterisation theretofore even hints at the explosion of anguish and longing expressed in Donne´s lyric. I´ll stop now.

Anyway here is Oppenheimer himself. I saw this clip a long time ago, it´s the sort of thing that stays with you. (The quote is not used in the opera, by the way. But enough!)

Meanwhile I had a short play on in this. I was extremely pleased with how they did it. They being Ross Armstrong, Jo Herbert and director Gordon Murray. It was a real pleasure to do a little something in the new Southwark Playhouse, too.

And I have written ´additional material´ for this. Which opens tonight. Blimey, how tempus fugit.


Helen Smith said...

You have been busy!

The teenage war diaries sound very interesting. I was reading Love and War in the Apennines (Eric Newby) the other day and was profoundly affected by it. It's an old book, he was a young man at the time - a boy, really, about 22 - I was quite shocked by what he'd had to endure, the bravery and resourcefulness and how kind the people were to him in Italy, having been enemies until a few weeks before.

I find it almost impossible to reconcile the differences between their lives and ours. Even though we're familiar with their stories from films and grandparents' accounts, it still seems to belong in fiction, as mad as reading a contemporary account by the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz and being asked to believe it's real.

Glad the Southwark Playhouse show went well. Good luck with Sweeney Todd xx

sbs said...

Helen, I will look out that Newby book, and thanks all round for your thoughts. I worked on the text of the diary of a teenage boy going through agonies during the siege of Leningrad, weakening from hunger and forced to steal rations from his mother and sister to sate his body, and then writing in his notebook of the shame and self-disgust. When evacuation finally happened, he couldn't walk and his family had to leave him to die. So yes. A different plane altogether from the one we live on in our pampered modern western pre-collapse world of peace and plenty. Truly sobering.

On a sweeter note, isn't Gordon good? x

Helen Smith said...

I love Gordon.

Tom Green said...

Glad you enjoyed Doctor Atomic.

I feel the same way as you about Nixon in China. I love the fact that Adams only agreed to do it on condition that it would be 'heroic'. What a bizarre but brilliant stipulation for a piece about Nixon. Alice Goodman's libretto is extraordinary.