Music by John Adams
First performance: San Francisco Opera, September 1, 2005
In performance now at the Metropolitan Opera
Live HD transmission to cinemas world wide, Saturday November 8th at 1 PM EST.
For theater near you: www.metopera.org
A New Englander named John Adams who writes operas might cause audiences some confusion. The composer John Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1947 (and up home we say 'Woostah'). To my knowledge he's never held elected office and he's very much a man of the 21st century. His early pieces, 'Grand Pianola Music', 'Harmonium' and 'Shaker Loops' positioned him as our most performed living American composer. Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata 'On the Transmigration of Souls', written for the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. He has long left behind the label minimalist composer as his own voice has taken over, and his works enter the mainstream.
Doctor Atomic is Adams's third opera. The first, 'Nixon in China', attracted attention not just for its subject matter but also for Alice Goodman's biting libretto and the inventive staging of Peter Sellars. The Adams-Goodman-Sellars collaboration continued with 'The Death of Klinghoffer'. This opera is the subject of a recent (and brilliant) film by Penny Woolcock, who has directed Doctor Atomic at the Metropolitan.
The task of setting the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the atomic bomb to music was the suggestion of Pamela Rosenberg, then General Director of the San Francisco Opera. Adams long ago earned the dubious title of "King of the CNN Operas". The characters you meet in his operas are well remembered by many,
and they often turned up in the papers or the evening news. What has always impressed me about Adams's operas is his insistence on the humanity of all of his characters. You may not like his politics, but Richard Nixon was presented with the dignity due the President of the United States. 'The Death of Klinghoffer' remains very controversial not only for the horrible death of the title character but for the humanity with which Goodman and Adams depicted the Palestinian hijackers. Adams and Sellars avoid caricature in 'Doctor Atomic.' Sellars ads verses of John Dunne, Muriel Rukeyser and the Bhagavad-Gita to his libretto, since these are poets and works known to jhave been dear to Oppenheimer.
Central to this opera is the relationship between Oppenheimer and his wife, Kitty. Imagine the conflict, creating something whose sole purpose is destruction on a massive scale. What does the do to the inventor? To his marriage and his loved ones? What about those who support the invention and argue that its necessary for the end of war and the safety of the world? The engine of Adams's music will tell the story of these characters in an opera that will I'm sure leave you impressed, and moved.
John Adams's new memoir 'Hallelujah Junction' is a good read.
His web site is www.earbox.com