Opera on nuclear scientist Oppenheimer, by John Adams

This video from the USA says about itself:

Celebrating San Francisco Opera’s world premiere of Doctor Atomic, this symposium brings together composer John Adams, director Peter Sellars, and UC Berkeley’s Marvin Cohen and Mark Richards to explore J. Robert Oppenheimer‘s role in the creation of the first atomic bomb and examines the historical, scientific, and musical background of “Doctor Atomic.”

Today, to the film of the opera Doctor Atomic.

Doctor Atomic is by the US American composer John Adams, with libretto by Peter Sellars.

The three hour film records a performance at De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam in 2007. Some aria lines, sung by Kitty, the wife of atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer, were especially added for that performance.

The story of Doctor Atomic concerns the two weeks leading up to the first test of the atomic bomb, the top-secret United States government project called the Manhattan Project and led by Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. Most of the story takes place on July 15, 1945, the day the first atomic bomb was exploded in New Mexico.

The most moving footage of the film was at the beginning and the end. At the beginning, there are historical images of the terrible consequences of the destruction of the Japanese city of Hiroshima by a nuclear bomb. The film ends with a Hiroshima girl desperately asking for water for children.

Before the recording of the opera starts, the movie has short interviews with its main makers and singers. In this, it is said that this opera about war in 1945 is relevant today, as the USA is led by men who can only make war, “and are not even good at that”, an allusion to the present George W. Bush administration and the Iraq war.

Often, the nuclear weapons issue is discussed in terms of science vs. morality. However, both in 1945 (as now) these were in an economic, social, and political context. Originally, the United States nuclear weapons program had been thought of as against nazi Germany, which was trying to get nuclear weapons itself. That had been the original reason why so many scientists who were refugees from Hitler dominated Europe, and/or anti fascists like Oppenheimer, had joined the Manhattan project. After the end of the war with Germany, in 1945, Japan became the intended target. Not for the sake of ending the war with Japan: the Japanese government was willing to capitulate, provided that Emperor Hirohito would remain head of state. The US government also wanted the emperor to stay on, as they feared a new republic in Japan might shift to the left. So, the US government decided to kill ten thousands of mainly working class Japanese civilians by nuclear catastrophe, in order to intimidate the Soviet Union and the rest of the world.

1 thought on “Opera on nuclear scientist Oppenheimer, by John Adams

  1. Pingback: Nuclear weapons waste health catastrophe in St. Louis, USA | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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