Saturday afternoon's performance of John Adams' Doctor Atomic, simulcast to movie theaters from the Metropolitan Opera, is an opportunity to experience modern music at its most accomplished. It tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the team of scientists he led in developing the first atomic bomb outside Los Alamos, N.M., in 1945.
I have been looking forward to seeing Doctor Atomic again, having attended the premiere in San Francisco three years ago. There the opera was directed by longtime Adams collaborator Peter Sellars, who also wrote the libretto. I was astounded by Adams' music but was left feeling restless by Sellars' contributions, so I am eager to see the Met's production, directed by Penny Woolcock. She directed the best opera video I have seen, her film adaptation of Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer.
The Met production stars baritone Gerald Finley, who sings the role of Oppenheimer, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as the scientist's wife, Kitty Oppenheimer.
Adams, America's best-known classical composer since Aaron Copland, is on a roll nowadays. Not only is Doctor Atomic reaching a huge audience on Saturday, but there is a DVD out from Opus Arte of the Sellars staging at the Netherlands Opera. A CD of the composer's latest opera, A Flowering Tree, has been released by Nonesuch. Adams also wrote his memoirs, Hallelujah Junction, published in October.
Doctor Atomic can be seen in the live high-definition simulcast from the Met at 1 p.m. Saturday at three Tampa Bay area movie theaters: Regency 20, Brandon; Woodlands Square 20, Oldsmar; and Citrus Park Stadium 20, Tampa.
QUARTETS: The sound of string quartets will fill the air this week in Tampa during the first Joan and Daniel Rutenberg Chamber Music Competition and Festival. For classical music fans, the string quartet is about as good as it gets.
"It's sort of the pinnacle of the repertoire,'' says violinist Carolyn Stuart, who teaches at the University of South Florida School of Music, which is putting on the event.
Three outstanding young quartets are finalists in the competition: the Hausmann Quartet, the Cecilia String Quartet and the Tasman Quartet. Under rules of the competition, their programs will include works from the classical, romantic and modern eras. They will play for $9,500 in prize money.
The competition is funded by the Rutenbergs, a Tampa couple (he was a humanities professor at USF), as well as a trust established to promote the music and legacy of British composer John Ireland (1879-1962), whose works were favorites of the late, revered USF professor, pianist and composer, Robert Helps. Several works by Ireland will be heard during the festival.
"I was introduced to Ireland's music when I came here 10 years ago,'' Stuart says. "It's a very special, nostalgic connection at USF.''
The festival and competition, which begins Wednesday and continues through Nov. 9, includes concerts by USF faculty and students, lecture-presentations and master classes. The competing quartets will give concerts around Tampa on Thursday. The two rounds of the competition in which the quartets play for judges take place on Friday and Saturday afternoons at USF's recital hall and are open to the public. For the schedule, see the Web site at music.arts.usf.edu/rutenberg.
MAHAFFEY: Colin Bissett, the new executive director of the Mahaffey Theater Foundation, made his name in the Tampa Bay area as a presenter of "boomer bands'' at the Largo Cultural Center. "Eric Burden and the Animals was our first sellout,'' says Bissett, who also booked Judy Collins, B.J. Thomas, the Little River Band, the Association, the Atlanta Rhythm Section and other vintage acts during the five years he ran the Largo venue.
Bissett, 61, an Englishman who moved to the United States in 1985 to work for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, has been with the foundation since September. Its main task is to underwrite programming at the St. Petersburg-owned theater, and to that end, he is launching a fundraising campaign to boost the foundation's endowment to $1-million. The endowment is now worth about $140,000, he says.
The Mahaffey Foundation has weathered its share of storms over the years, including some disastrous seasons when it had a leading role in programming for the theater. The city now contracts with SMG, a worldwide venue manager, to operate the theater and take chief responsibility for programming. The foundation's priority is to support Class Acts, a series of performances for schoolchildren.
The foundation was moribund for several years, and its image suffered from association with banker Eduardo Camejo, a former president of the board. Camejo, a vice president with Northern Trust Bank, was sentenced to 30 months in state prison last year after being convicted of grand theft for stealing from bank clients. The current president is a lawyer, Robert Kapusta.
"There's no denying there are some misperceptions that need to be overcome,'' Bissett says. "I think people will forget over time.''
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.