As we all knew he would, Alex Ross has written an excellent article for The New Yorker about the making of John Adams and Peter Sellars's new opera, Doctor Atomic. It includes conversations with Adams and especially with Sellars, who is not only directing the production but put together the text of the libretto after Alice Goodman withdrew. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, this lengthy piece (a feature article in "Onward and Upward with the Arts," instead of at the back with "The Critics") has not been made available online. Sellars describes this new opera with the sentence "This is 'Götterdämmerung' for our generation":
"This whole night is about the atomic bomb," Sellars said, "and I want actually to begin with the most important words--that, at the end of the day, yes, it's wrong, and everyone knows it. Yes, it's wrong. When you say 'terrible,' terrible is"--Sellars paused--"terrible. Look at it in the eye."When I read about the article on Alex's blog, The Rest Is Noise, before the magazine arrived in my mailbox, I found this excellent post about Alex's trip to Los Alamos, the Trinity test site, and San Francisco, where the opera will receive its premiere this Saturday, complete with great photographs from Alex's digital camera.
"Terrible"? "Wrong"? As a New Yorker who thinks regularly about the possibility of a stray nuclear bomb wiping out not only my life but everything I love, I didn't doubt him for a moment. But I wondered whether the director was politically stacking the deck. He was, however, merely setting up one pole of the debate.
"To me, the Los Alamos story and the bomb in particular is the ultimate American myth," Adams said. "It constellates so many of the defining themes of our American consciousness: industry and invention leading to a 'triumph' of science over nature; the presumption of military dominance on behalf of what we perceive as the 'right' values; the newfound power to bring about annihilation of life; and the moral and ethical conundrums that the possession of such an instrument of destruction force upon us."I also recommend the interview (Doctor Atomic to Premier in San Francisco, September 1) that John Adams gave to Mark Wilson for Physics Today earlier this month, the audience of which makes the interview rather interesting and different. There have been so many major cast changes in this production that I have lost count (actually, it's three, I think). Still, we are sad not to be in San Francisco this weekend.
See also Mark Swed's article (Peter Sellars: Explosively original, September 11) for the Los Angeles Times.