PBS’s Great Performances is a television series that is dedicated to bringing cultural arts to people’s televisions, free of charge. Each episode of Great Performances features a professionally filmed program—typically, stage productions such as ballet productions, musicals, plays and operas are performed.
There have been many excellent episodes of Great Performances in the past and the show is immensely popular due to its accessibility for those who, for one reason or another, may not be able to see many live stage productions. Many people tune into the show to catch productions of operas, both classic and modern; there are some opera productions on the show that stand out from others. The following are the very best of the operas aired on Great Performances.
When most people think about opera, they think about classic love stories or tragedies (or both!). Doctor Atomic breaks the mold by being an opera about the creation of the atomic bomb. The opera, written by American composer John Adams, is an English-language show whose story leads up to the very first testing of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. The Great Performances production features grand performances that capture the lush, but unusual, score of the show—including the intense ‘Batter My Heart’ number, which is the true highlight of the production.
Doctor Atomic, while not traditional opera, will have audiences thinking—not just about the story they’ve witnessed, but about the atomic bomb, the nature of using science to create such weapons, and the impact they have had on society.
The Great Performances ‘Anna Bolena’ is a more traditional production, this time about the famous wife of Henry VIII who found herself beheaded on trumped up charges of treason after she displeased the king one too many times. This production is a true classic: the costumes are more or less period appropriate, the sets are simple but authentic, and the performances are soaring and suited to the richer, traditional score of the opera. Another excellent aspect of this production is the editing done for the filmed Great Performances episode; the editing manages to capture the drama and tension in the show perfectly.
Fans of older operas will likely enjoy this production the most, although opera lovers who enjoy history—especially the Turbulent history of Henry VIII—may also get something great out of the production.
Are you a PBS fan and love opera? Here’s helpful information to keep the entertainment lively in your house.