The Met’s take on John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic.”

Adams In the New Yorker, Alex Ross reviews this production of John Adams’ opera:

I first heard John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic”—an opera set in the days and hours leading up to the first nuclear test, on July 16, 1945—while driving toward the patch of New Mexico desert where the detonation took place. In the course of chronicling the first production of “Atomic,” at the San Francisco Opera in 2005, I had arranged to visit the Trinity site, and brought with me the composer’s computer realization of his score. An eerie trip ensued. Even as the hot gleam of the highway gave way to desolate roads and fenced-off military zones, Adams’s characteristic musical gestures—the rich-hued harmonies and bopping rhythms that have made repertory items of “Harmonielehre,” “Nixon in China,” and “Short Ride in a Fast Machine”—disintegrated into broken clockwork rhythms, acid harmonies, and electronic noise.

Rehearsals for the première revealed “Atomic” to be not only an ominous score but also an uncommonly beautiful one. Scene after scene glows with strange energy. There is an inexplicably lovely choral ode to the bomb’s thirty-two-pointed explosive shell, with unison female voices floating above lush string-and-wind chords and glitterings of chimes and celesta. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the atomic project, and Kitty, his brilliant, alcoholic wife, sing sumptuous duets over an orchestra steeped in the decadent glamour of Wagner and Debussy. Oppenheimer’s central aria, a setting of the John Donne sonnet “Batter my heart, three-person’d God,” has a stark Renaissance eloquence, its melody a single taut wire. The night of the countdown is taken up with a hallucinatory sequence of convulsive choruses, lurching dances, and truncated lyric flights. After the first run-through with singers and orchestra, it seemed clear that “Doctor Atomic” was Adams’s most formidable achievement to date.