Dr. AtomicóAn opera about the moral complexities of Hiroshima

By Daniel J. Kevles [Slate, 19 October 2005]
Dr. Atomic, the transfixing new opera by the composer John Adams in collaboration with the director and librettist Peter Sellars, calls to mind William Carlos Williams’ lines in Asphodel, That Greeny Flower: “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.” The opera, which had its premiere in San Francisco on Oct. 1 (and closes Oct. 22), centers on the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer at the culmination of his leadership of the laboratory at Los Alamos, N.M., that designed and constructed the first atomic bombs. It is set at Los Alamos, at the end of June 1945, several weeks before the first nuclear explosive was tested at Alamogordo, N.M., and then at the test site during the anxious, rainstormy hours preceding the detonation at 5:30 a.m. on July 16, 1945.