Dr Atomic - Met Opera New York - Projection Design by 59


Composer: John Adams

Librettist: Peter Sellars

Director: Penny Woolcock

Designer: Julian Crouch

Lighting Designer: Brian McDevitt

Video Designers: Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer

Associate Video Designer: Lysander Ashton

Animator: Joseph Pierce for Fifty Nine Productions

Choreographer: Andrew Dawson

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Dr Atomic

Metropolitan Opera, NY

About this project

Opera inevitably deals with characters caught in larger-than-life emotional or political turmoil. But in the case of John Adams's Doctor Atomic, the subject matter is particularly compelling. The opera, which has its Met premiere on October 13 in a new production by acclaimed filmmaker Penny Woolcock, conducted by Alan Gilbert, dramatizes a modern-day event of truly epic implications: the inauguration of the nuclear era with the first atomic bomb test during the tense final summer of World War II. "The manipulation of the atom, the unleashing of that formerly inaccessible source of densely concentrated energy, was the great mythological tale of our time," Adams writes in his recently published memoir, Hallelujah Junction. With the bomb's successful explosion, "the relationship between humans and the planet they inhabit changed unalterably."

Adams, one of today's most successful and frequently performed composers, has developed a reputation for mining the tremendous mythic and symbolic potential of contemporary stories and events. At the same time, his colorful and sensuous music appeals to audiences in a way rarely achieved by a 21st-century composer-a combination Woolcock finds particularly stimulating: "I feel like the luckiest person in the world working on this, because John's music is so beautiful, and the subject is so thrilling and important."

Doctor Atomic is the fifth of Adams's six stage works to date, and with its focus on the resonance of figures and events familiar from contemporary American history, it follows the example Adams established in his first opera, the 1987 Nixon in China (which considered the clashing ideologies of the Cold War).

In physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his quest for the bomb, Adams found a modern figure who seemed custom-made for his high-stakes approach to opera. Oppenheimer, one of the most brilliant minds in 20th-century science, oversaw the climax of the Manhattan Project to develop and test the first atomic bomb in the remote New Mexico desert, at a site designated "Trinity."