Baritone Finley sings the song atomic

Wed Jan 7, 2009 4:12pm EST
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Canadian baritone Gerald Finley began his operatic career as a birdcatcher in Mozart's "Magic Flute." He's graduated to bombmaker -- atomic ones.

Finley, 48, is the lead in "Doctor Atomic," the opera by American composer John Adams and librettist Peter Sellars about J. Robert Oppenheimer who, as scientific director of the Manhattan Project, is known as "the father of the atomic bomb."

The opera, set in New Mexico, where the first bomb was exploded, had its premiere in 2005 in San Francisco, with Finley singing the title role. Since then he's sung it more than 40 times in Chicago, Amsterdam and most recently in New York.

"I've created the tradition of Oppenheimer because it's a very demanding role, I'm on stage for 62 of the 65 minutes of the first act," Finley told Reuters in a recent interview at a Starbucks in London.

In February, he will bring its explosive mix of high-impact music and probing, thought-provoking drama to the English National Opera in London for nine performances. In the meantime, the Netherlands Opera version is on Opus Arte DVD OA 0998 D.

Finley's laid-back demeanour gives nothing away to nearby coffee drinkers who little suspect the presence of a bombmaker in their midst.

Here's what he had to say about "Doctor Atomic," why he's taken on "darker" roles, his love of American song and why he's happy he didn't become a veterinarian.

The following is an edited transcript.   Continued...

<p>Gerald Finley (R) as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Kristine Jepson, portraying his wife Kitty, perform during a dress rehearsal performance of John Adams' and Peter Sellars' opera," Doctor Atomic" at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco September 28, 2005. REUTERS/Dino Vournas</p>