How We All Learned to Make The Bomb Doctor Atomic, a new opera about to open at the Met, brings nuclear proliferation, "rogue states" and the terrorists' dream of a dirty bomb back to the first "ground zero" Credits: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
6 For Adams, there is absolutely nothing out of character when Sellars puts the words of Baudelaire in Oppenheimer's mouth in the final moments of the countdown to "the shot:"
"No! there are no more minutes,
there are no more seconds!
Time has disappeared;
it is Eternity that reigns now!" Peter Brown/Scientific American
5 Oppenheimer (
right, shown here with Leslie Groves), of course, will go on to earn the gratitude of a grateful nation for his scientific leadership of the Manhattan Project, for the weapon that ended World War II.
Later he will be caught in the red-baiting of the McCarthy era, denounced as a communist sympathizer and stripped of his security clearance. But for now--and for Adams--the character of Oppenheimer is the central player in the drama, the "most highly cultured scientist who ever lived," Adams says. Oppie spoke three languages fluently, learned Sanskrit so that he could read the Bhagavad Gita in the original language, and kept a copy of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal close by to calm his nerves. Courtesy the Department of Energy
4 For Adams, the words that matter most are those of "Oppie," as J. Robert Oppenheimer was called--the role that baritone Gerald Finley (
pictured here) created for the world premier of Doctor Atomic by the San Francisco Opera in 2005. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
3 That one image--among many others--should settle any argument against the wisdom of the decision by composer John Adams (
pictured here) and librettist Peter Sellars to rely on the words of the real historical figures--and the words of the poets they cherished--to re-tell what has become the origins myth of our time, the story of the birth of the Atomic Age. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera Advertisement
2 Atomic fission, as we all know, will soon win that struggle. On July 16, 1945--tomorrow morning, in the timeline of the opera--the first test of the atomic bomb will light up the New Mexican desert with the explosive power of 15,000 tons of TNT.
Los Alamos National Laboratory
1 A frightful sphere, huge, gray, bristling with wires, harshly lit in white, is lowered on a cable from far above the stage at the Metropolitan Opera.
By this time, the very beginning of Act 2 of Doctor Atomic, no one in the house has any doubt that the object is "the gadget," as the atomic scientists call it: The Bomb. Peter Brown/Scientific American Advertisement