The Metropolitan Opera HD Live: Season 3, Episode 3

Doctor Atomic (8 Nov. 2008)

TV Episode  |   |  Music
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Composer John Adams re-creates the tension at Los Alamos, 1945, the night before the first atom bomb is tested. Gerald Finley portrays Dr. Oppenheimer; the first act ends with a ... See full summary »



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Episode credited cast:
Gerald Finley ...
Sasha Cooke ...
Eric Owens ...
Richard Paul Fink ...
Thomas Glenn ...
Robert Wilson
Meredith Arwady ...
Earle Patriarco ...
Frank Hubbard
Roger Honeywell ...
Captain James Nolan
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
John Adams ...
Himself - Composer
Benjamin Bederson ...
Alan Gilbert ...
Himself - Conductor
Susan Graham ...
Herself - Host
Metropolitan Opera Chorus ...
J. Robert Oppenheimer ...
Himself (archive footage)
Richard Rhodes ...


Composer John Adams re-creates the tension at Los Alamos, 1945, the night before the first atom bomb is tested. Gerald Finley portrays Dr. Oppenheimer; the first act ends with a soul-searching aria, "Batter My Heart." (text by John Dryden). Written by dnitzer

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Release Date:

8 November 2008 (USA)  »

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Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

16:9 HD
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Version of Doctor Atomic (2007) See more »

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User Reviews

Sellars or Sellers?
18 May 2011 | by (Birmingham, England) – See all my reviews

I listened to this opera twice through since, after one hearing, I felt that I had not done it justice. After two hearings I felt that it was probably the first operatic masterpiece of the 21st century. There are two standout arias from Sasha Cooke as Kitty Oppenheimer and Gerald Finley as Robert Oppenheimer. Kitty Openheimer has a wistful first Act aria "Am I in your light?" and Robert Oppenheimer has a powerful aria that ends the first act "Batter my heart, three person'd God". This latter is actually a setting of a poem by John Donne. Other, purely orchestral highlights include a splendid Act II intermezzo and a brilliant, tension-filled finale before the atom bomb explodes.

This work by John Adams with libretto by Peter Sellars is described as an opera but appears to me to be more of an oratorio in nature. It is fairly static. The first act is an exposition of the pros and cons of dropping the first atom bomb. The second is the waiting around in the New Mexico desert for the first bomb to explode.

In Penny Woolcock's imaginative new production, Act I opens with a periodic table of the elements which becomes a series of boxes containing members of the chorus. I found the first act exposition very interesting as various scientists argue that a) the Japanese should be given two days warning before the bomb is dropped and b) that Japanese representatives should be invited to watch the test, whereupon they would promptly surrender. Our hero, Robert Oppenheimer, sung by Gerald Finley, argues against this on the grounds that the bomb might be a dud. There is much black humour, such as the way Oppenheimer describes the power of the bomb as being "dangerous to life for a radius of at least two-thirds of a mile".

In the second act the two female roles, Kitty Oppenheimer and her Tewa maid Pasqualita do not seem to have much point. Kitty, in real life quite a complex figure, just mopes around. Pasqualita sings a vague Tewa melody "In the north the cloud-flower blossoms". This is more reminiscent of Peter Sellers in Being There rather than Peter Sellars.There is, however, more black humour in this act as the people attending the nuclear test protect themselves by applying sun-tan lotion and donning sunglasses. The opera sometimes resembles an episode of Mad Men with its political incorrectness and with everyone chain-smoking. Fortunately for the performers, they appear to be puffing on dummy cigarettes.

This, as I have said, is a new production following on from the original production directed by Sellars himself. I have not seen Sellars version but, even in a version directed by someone else, the opera is is imbued with his typically Brechtian didacticism. There are pros and cons to Sellars approach of using original sources and poetry for the libretto. Apart from John Donne, there is poetry by Baudelaire, Muriel Rukeyser and the Bhagavad Gita. The source material used in the discussions about nuclear physics is quite fascinating. The poetry however does seem to stick out like a sore thumb. It's a bit like cobbling together a series of Abba songs and calling it Mamma Mia.

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