The longing to overcome human boundaries lead the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to begin an experiment that formed a threat to the whole of humanity, and whose scientific results still do today. The question of the moral implications of the atomic bomb is raised in John Adams opera, just as much as that of the influence on the private lives of the main characters. Doctor Atomic is the fifth work to result from almost twenty years of collaboration between the American composer and his fellow American director and Erasmus Prize-winner Peter Sellars. Doctor Atomic concerns itself with the work of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team of scientists at the test site of the first atomic bomb outside Los Alamos, New Mexico during the lead-up to the first detonation. As Zero Hour relentlessly approaches and conditions become less and less favorable, individual tensions build feverishly and Oppenheimer and his staff struggle with the moral implications of their work on 'the Gadget', and the strong possibility of global annihilation. Recorded in high definition video and true surround sound, John Adams' fascinating, overwhelming score and Peter Sellars' forceful staging (and TV direction) portray Oppenheimer, exquisitely sung by Gerald Finley, as a profoundly troubled man, at odds with himself but moving inexorably forward, representative of the great ethical dilemmas of humanity itself.
In documentaries on the "Doctor Atomic" DVDs, the vignettes of Sellars talking about his mission offer a characteristic sense of art at its most stubbornly idealistic...Adams himself says on the DVD that "Doctor Atomic" draws on the vocabulary of the overwrought scores to 1950s sci-fi B movies, except with all the camp stripped away so you are left with pure anxiety conveyed by certain sound effects and timbres at key moments. But there are also moments of rich beauty. In the second scene, when the setting shifts from the lab to Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer's bedroom, the score is so purely gorgeous it could make you cry. -- Washington Post, Anne Midgette, October 19, 2008
Included in 2008: The Year in Review
The Ten Best Classical Music Recordings of 2008 by Alex Ross -- The New Yorker, Alex Ross, December 15, 2008
The best part of ``Doctor Atomic'' is Adams's multilayered score, a daring mix of modernism harking back to Edgard Varese, sci-fi pulp electronics and soaring lyricism. -- Bloomberg.com, Robert Hilferty, October 13, 2008