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<<  -- 2 --  Carson P Cooman    A THRILLING LAUNCH


The second act, by contrast, has a greater tension and forward push. The first scene begins at the Oppenheimers' home in which Kitty, and their Native American maid, Pasqualita, are putting the Oppenheimer children to sleep. Kitty's extended aria focuses on war and death, tinged with a Cassandra-like prophetic worry about the future. The mood is tense and the sky is filled with lightning (the bad weather forecast). The entire rest of the opera takes place at the Almogordo test site. The first part continues the trajectory of the first act, in which scientists make the final adjustments, worry about the weather, and make bets as to the potential yield of the bomb. The last two scenes are subtitled 'the countdown' and extend the 20 minute countdown into about 40 minutes of stage drama. These scenes are somewhat dream-like in their conception. The reality of the countdown is interspersed with prophetic interjections from Kitty, the chorus, and dancers who bring in musical and cultural extrapolations. Sellars states that these reflect on the wildly roving thought process of Oppenheimer (and the others) during those final countdown moments. The opera ends with the last seconds of the countdown, and a largely orchestral (and electronic) epilogue, connecting it subtly to the future devastation of Hiroshima and Nagaski.

A screenshot, © 2005 San Francisco Opera
A screenshot, © 2005 San Francisco Opera

The process of the creation of Doctor Atomic has been covered very thoroughly in articles in many major American and European newspapers and magazines -- including an excellent extended piece by Alex Ross in The New Yorker. The San Francisco Opera has also created a creative and thorough website,, filled with background information. Thus, I will not feel the need here to duplicate all the myriad pre-performance information and stories otherwise available on the new work.

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Copyright © 3 October 2005 Carson P Cooman, San Francisco, USA


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