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Nonesuch released the first recording of John Adams's 2005 opera, Doctor Atomic, on June 29, 2018. Longtime Adams collaborator Peter Sellars created the libretto for Doctor Atomic, drawing from original sources. The composer leads the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in this recording, which features a cast led by Gerald Finley, who originated the role of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. The two-CD boxed set includes a 64-page bound booklet with archival photos, libretto, and an essay by Mark Swed.
Doctor Atomic concerns the final hours leading up to the first atomic bomb explosion at the Alamagordo test site in New Mexico in July 1945. The focal characters are the physicist and Manhattan Project director, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer; his wife Kitty; Edward Teller; and General Leslie Groves, US Army commander of the project.
Sellars's libretto draws on original source material, including personal memoirs, recorded interviews, technical manuals of nuclear physics, declassified government documents, and the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser, an American poet and contemporary of Oppenheimer.
In addition to the San Francisco premiere, Finley has sung Oppenheimer in productions in New York, Amsterdam, Chicago, and London. He is joined on the album by Julia Bullock (Kitty Oppenheimer), Brindley Sherratt (Edward Teller), Samuel Sakker (Captain James Nolan), Andrew Staples (Robert Wilson), Jennifer Johnston (Pasqualita), and Aubrey Allicock (General Leslie Groves). This recording was made possible in part through generous support from New Music USA.
What the press are saying... "His most visionary and ambitious stage work to date," said the Guardian. "Adams's conducting, second to none in his own music, had tremendous conviction and unique authority, with every facet of the score's terrible beauty laid bare … thrilling playing and choral singing … Gerald Finley conveyed Oppenheimer's moral agony with singing of great refinement and subtlety."
"A magnificent accomplishment that easily takes its place alongside the other Adams-Sellars triumphs," exclaimed the Los Angeles Times. "It contains music of unearthly splendor … gorgeous lushness and … rich expressivity."
Doctor Atomic: Overture
"The end of June 1945"
"First of all, let me say"
"We surround the plutonium core"
"We are bedeviled by faulty detonators"
"Many of us are inclined to say"
"The nation's fate..."
"This is a petition"
"What if it's a dud?"
"The test must go on as scheduled"
"No, before the bomb is used"
"Am I in your light?"
"Long let me inhale, deeply..."
"The motive of it all was loneliness"
"What the hell is wrong with the weather?"
"Five hundred U.S. Superfortresses are raining bombs"
"I'll sign the report, sir"
"With respect, sir, anyone with two good eyes"
"I have been preoccupied with many matters"
"Get them out of here. From now on, I'm making my own weather predictions"
"General, you are bearing up with remarkable fortitude"
"Batter my heart"
"Easter Eve, 1945"
Interlude - Rain over the Sangre de Cristo
"In the north the cloud-flower blossoms"
"It's midnight, Jack"
"I've dreamed the same dream"
"To the farthest west, the sea and the striped country"
"A delay in the Potsdam Ultimatum"
"Fermi is taking wagers"
"I've spent a great deal of time indulging in controlled fantasies"
"Edward, the test will be delayed an hour"
"This program has been plagued from the start"
"To keep the weakness secret"
"I just finished reading The Magic Mountain"
"The winter dawned, but the dead did not come back"
"And love, which contains all human spirit"
"The only saviors are the ham sandwiches"
Chorus - "At the sight of this"
"Lieutenant Bush, keep a weather eye on Oppenheimer"
"To what benevolent demon do I owe the joy of being thus surrounded"
"That's their signal!"
"The sky is clear to the east"
"In the midnight, in the flame-brilliant midnight"
"Zero minus two minutes"