Sample Essay on what’s postmodern about Dr. Atomic?


The opera is one of the most conservative genres of art with innovation being limited and the general form and practices that are prevalent remaining unchanged. Postmodern opera can be considered as that art that goes against the norm of the operatic genre by introducing new aspects and approaches to presentation. The postmodern opera is characterized by an eclectic approach, using a mix of styles to present art at the theatre and being no slave to the classically accepted style of presentation. Dr. Atomic is one of the operatic pieces that are postmodern in its presentation, especially in the form of its libretto, which is at odds with traditional convention.


Traditionally, the libretto is not poetic per se, but it is usually represented in the form of high prose that uses literary devices to eloquently and critically examine themes in an operatic piece. Considering that the libretto is often sung, traditional opera considers the words used in an attempt to give them some rhyme as well as bringing out the opera’s themes dramatically. However, Dr. Atomic does not observe this convention with the libretto consisting of quotes from documents, books as well as passages from note poets with little consideration given to artistic arrangement and presentation of words. This makes the libretto jarringly banal with no dramatic insights into some of the dilemmas facing the protagonists. The libretto is preoccupied with the quotidian at the expense of the substantial, for example, critically examining the metaphorical weather while ignoring or lightly treating the considerable pressure and moral and ethical dilemma of the protagonists.


The decision by the writer of the libretto to eschew high prose in favor of an eclectic collection of quotes makes Dr. Atom one of the great postmodern pieces of opera, a work that is a refreshing break from the operatic establishment.