Tag Archives: J. Robert Oppenheimer

On “Dr Atomic”

Oppenheimer's security pass

Conservatives aren’t the obvious audience for major compositions by John Adams, especially those where director Peter Sellars is also involved.

The irritants here are self-evident. Adams’ three major operas — Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and Dr Atomic (2005) — take as their various points of departure the recent historical past, still very much the stuff of raw emotion and visceral personal politics, while Adams’ public pronouncements tend to radiate centre-left certitudes as unsubtly self-congratulatory as they are orthodox, if sometimes a little bizarre. Adams is convinced, for instance, that he’s on a ‘blacklist’ — this, on the basis that he has to show ID when checking in at airports! Let’s not disillusion him, shall we? Meanwhile it is difficult to see how a life predicated solely on attempting to do, at any given moment, the very thing calculated most thoroughly to annoy The New Criterion would have differed in most significant particulars from Sellars’ career, that long-running attempt epater une bourgeoisie still puzzlingly more keen on paying out yet more cultural subsidy for Sellars’ slightly predictable affronts than actually fighting back.

How odd, then, that Dr Atomic at the English National Opera last Friday — composed by Adams, libretto by Sellars — should, for all its ideological flaws, prove to be such an exhilarating experience. Continue reading

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