Doctor Atomic

For the first time, the opera Doctor Atomic is being performed at the Santa Fe Opera, just down the road from the events at Los Alamos that it depicts.  I attended the premiere and wrote a review of it for Physics Today, the magazine of the American Institute of Physics.

Open thread.






64 replies
  1. 1
    eponymous says:

    I saw it performed by the NY Metropolitan Opera, in the live HD broadcast a few years ago. It was awesome, especially the John Donne aria (Batter my Heart, Three-personed God). I like John Donne, and John Adams – wish I could have gone to this performance. Thanks for the review – off to read!

  2. 2
    eponymous says:

    I should add, and I like Peter Sellars also, who had a bit more to do with the libretto than John Donne.

  3. 3
    J R in WV says:

    A nice review, especially of the reality of Trinity and the Downwinders. Of course, now we are all Downwinders, after over 4,000 nuclear explosions. I’m glad it was well performed. We would love to see it, but no practical way to get out to NM in the next week.

    A link to Balloon-Juice at the bottom of the review, I wonder if we’ll get a few new visitors…

    Thanks for this!

  4. 4
    Ninedragonspot says:

    Nice review. For me, alas, the loss of Alice Goodman has drained the life out of most of Adams’/Sellars’ post-Klinghoffer projects. Their subsequent cut-and-paste libretti just don’t pop like lines of crafted poetry. Maybe this production, with its less literal staging, overcomes the problem by emphasizing abstraction.

  5. 5
    realbtl says:

    As an pld LLNL-er this is very cool.

  6. 6
    Matt says:

    Saw it in San Francisco years ago. Good to see modern operas see repeated stagings.

  7. 7
    realbtl says:

    @realbtl: As an old LLNL-er who can’t type or edit.

  8. 8
    sgrAstar says:

    Thanks for linking your thoughtful review, Cheryl. I saw this production last Thursday- the second time I’ve seen and been gobsmacked by Dr Atomic. The enormous, crashing thunderstorm that backdropped the opera- clouds of rain were blowing into the covered space and we were soaked!, the corn dancers, and Peter Sellars’ pre-opera talk added a lot to the emotional impact. I’m still thinking about the experience…in fact, I am still ringing like a gong. It was overpowering in every respect! I miss the lucidity of Alice Goodman’s librettos. We were also a bit disappointed with the decision to strip out some of the historical detail- Oppie’s hat, the Gadget in all its kludgy glory. For me as a physicist and history buff, it’s important to acknowledge that actual flesh and blood people perpetrated this thing, in a certain time and place.

  9. 9

    @sgrAstar: I liked the stripped-down version. I have thoughts on why different people like the different versions that I hope to write up. I’ve had some interesting discussions and encountered some strong reactions.

  10. 10
    CapnMubbers says:

    Thanks for your review. I would so like to see this production; any chance of viewing it online, on pbs, or otherwise?

  11. 11

    @sgrAstar: BTW, that was quite a thunderstorm, and extremely appropriate for the production. And I love Peter Sellars’s talks!

  12. 12

    @CapnMubbers: There are dvd versions available of other productions. Don’t know if there will be one from this.

  13. 13
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @J R in WV:
    Downwinders. Reminds me of living 8 miles downwind from TMI when it melted down. Good times.

  14. 14
    Missouri Buckeye says:

    Not having heard the opera before, what is general opinion about Alice Goodman’s reason for withdrawing from the project, in that she felt it was anti-Semitic?

    Interestingly, this charge has also been leveled against Adams’s “Death of Klinghoffer.”

  15. 15
    A Ghost To Most says:

    Since OT: Anyone here familiar with GMRS radio? I filed for a license, and have a radio coming for my truck. Tips and tricks welcomed.

  16. 16
    Mike J says:

    @A Ghost To Most: I’m sure it’s nice but I don’t understand what it does that either a old stylee CB or VHF wouldn’t do cheaper and without need of a license.

    Which reminds me I need to make sure the VHF on the dock is charged.

  17. 17
    The Midnight Lurker says:

    Ms. Rofer, completely off subject (sort of), but Mrs. Lurker and I were wondering how historically accurate is Fat Man and Little Boy (the 1989 Paul Newman picture). And is there a documentary on the subject you might recommend? Thanks.

  18. 18
    Mnemosyne says:

    I had known vaguely that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s first collaboration was on a musical version of Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, but I had not realized that they did a revival of it and released a cast album a couple of years ago:

    http://www.playbill.com/articl.....k-by-track

    Apparently, it got a thumbs-up of approval from Vonnegut himself when it first opened off-off-way-off-Broadway in the late 1970s.

  19. 19
    Ninedragonspot says:

    @Missouri Buckeye: This is what Goodman has said, “I found that the structure John and Peter had got together with me was really anti-semitic, with Oppenheimer as the good blue-eyed Jew and Edward Teller as the bad limping one with the greasy hair, and a host of virtuous native Americans pitted against the refugee physicists out in the New Mexico desert. I couldn’t see how it could be anything but deeply offensive.”

    The “libretto” Adams and Sellars eventually confected doesn’t have this Good Jew/Bad Jew theme, but I don’t find Goodman’s story implausible (i can also easily imagine that Adams, and perhaps Sellars, are PITA co-collaborators). I remain baffled by claims that Klinghoffer is anti-Semitic.

  20. 20

    @The Midnight Lurker: I think I may have seen Fat Man and Little Boy, but I don’t recall it now. Here’s a documentary, but I haven’t watched it.

  21. 21
    sgrAstar says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Cheryl, I am very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the “stripped down” version! I do think that the super reflective sphere was almost overwhelmingly creepy. Ominous, threatening, inhuman. And absolutely dominating. Hmmm. Maybe I liked that more than I thought. :)

  22. 22
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Mike J: Range and repeaters. Huge difference in the mountains. Potentially life-saving.

  23. 23
    What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? says:

    Haven’t seen this opera but I have attended the Santa Fe Opera (La Traviata) and it is a wonderful venue.

  24. 24
    TenguPhule says:

    Trump has a new plan for how to pay down the national debt: Taxing American consumers and businesses when they buy certain goods from countries subject to his tariffs.

    Math is not on his side.

    Mr. Trump contended over the weekend that the tariffs his administration has imposed on steel, aluminum and a variety of imported Chinese goods will soon begin to generate sufficient revenue to reduce the federal debt.

    Donald J. Trump

    @realDonaldTrump
    ..Because of Tariffs we will be able to start paying down large amounts of the $21 Trillion in debt that has been accumulated, much by the Obama Administration, while at the same time reducing taxes for our people. At minimum, we will make much better Trade Deals for our country!

    2:06 AM – Aug 5, 2018

    Warning, FNYT link

    Trump declares War on Math.

  25. 25
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @TenguPhule:
    Well, real numbers anyway. Irrational numbers he’s down with.

  26. 26
    Dan B says:

    OT. For those of us following Sister Golden Bear -and- immigration issues there’s a need to support one if Seattle’s Trans rights leaders, Danni Askini. She’s been targeted online, plus family and friends, by Oregon skinheads. Her car was hit by a green pickup with Oregon plates, three guys with buzzcuts, and shotguns. Local law enforcement claim no capacity to protect her so she fled to Sweden. Immigration threw huge roadblocks in renewing her passport. She’s in Sweden now on a short term passport but threatened with passport fraud if she returns to the US.

    Details and a Go Fund Me at: gf.me/u/kdqiqg

    Sorry, I don’t know if this needs a www or http. Thanks

  27. 27
    schrodingers_cat says:

    @A Ghost To Most: Irrational numbers are real

  28. 28
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @schrodingers_cat: I’m retired and don’t give a shit. The joke remains.

    I took years of mathematics to get a CS degree, then never used it, beyond converting bases. I got by.

  29. 29
    Gary K says:

    @CapnMubbers: You can stream the Met production, but need a paid subscription.

  30. 30
    The Moar You Know says:

    I’m sure it’s nice but I don’t understand what it does that either a old stylee CB or VHF wouldn’t do cheaper and without need of a license.

    @Mike J: VHF you absolutely DO need a license for.

    GMRS works on a frequency band (basically just over the UHF band for ham radio) that’s a lot less susceptible to interference and atmospheric conditions than the old CB radios were. Lots more power as well – CB is limited to 4 watts, GMRS to 50 – not that you’ll get that out of a handheld, nor would you want to. GMRS can use repeaters too, not that there’s a lot of them out there. Nice fat bandwidth and FM modulation means nice, clear transmissions. It’s a great way to get into amateur radio and good for the inevitable family outings.

    Yes, I’m a longtime ham operator.

  31. 31

    @A Ghost To Most:

    Well, real numbers anyway. Irrational numbers he’s down with.

    To be pedantic, many irrational numbers (e.g. square roots of positive numbers) are real. The opposite of real numbers are imaginary numbers, which is probably closer to what Trump is working with anyway.

  32. 32
    The Moar You Know says:

    Anyone here familiar with GMRS radio? I filed for a license, and have a radio coming for my truck. Tips and tricks welcomed.

    @A Ghost To Most: Buy the best antenna you can find. Mag mount, put it on the top of the cab. What radio did you get?

  33. 33
    Gary K says:

    I’m in OH-12, and banked my own vote over a week ago. While canvassing on Saturday I met an elderly gentleman who seemed barely aware that an election was about to happen, and today I took him to his polling place. Hope that’s enough! He was pretty cloudy about the news, but his one certainty was that he greatly appreciates the women in his life, and Trump is disrespectful to women. (I think he had in mind the “grab them” remark, but was too polite to utter such words.) At the polling place he knew one of the workers but was befuddled by the touch-screen technology. Before retirement over a decade ago, he had been a steelworker in Mansfield, OH.

  34. 34
    Ceci n est pas mon nym says:

    @Roger Moore: To be even more pedantic, ALL irrational numbers are real. The reals are divided into the rationals and the irrationals.

    Square roots of negative numbers are “imaginary numbers”, not real, not rational, not irrational. Entirely separate class.

    In fact, what’s really interesting about the imaginary… hey, what’s that snoring sound?

  35. 35
    Ceci n est pas mon nym says:

    Prayer to the BJ gods: Please delete near-duplicate comment #34. If sacrifice is necessary to hear my plea, I’ve got the iPhone I dropped while on vacation, screen shattered to pieces underneath the “screen protector”, which stayed nicely intact. And in fact held the screen together.

  36. 36
    Fair Economist says:

    I really wish I could see this, but there’s just no way. At least I’ll get to see Satyagraha this coming year at the LA Opera. I saw Einstein on the Beach a few years back and loved it, but it’s definitely not for everybody. My recording of EotB was very useful recently, though. My son was whining about my playing some quite tame world music (“That’s so we-yurd!”) in the car (Aral by Catherine Lara) so I switched to EotB and played it through twice over the next week and a half. He hasn’t complained about me playing weird music since!

  37. 37
    JerryRich says:

    @Ninedragonspot: The Death of Klinghoffer dramatises a horrific terrorist act but also dares to present the Palestinians as humans with goals. This is enough to break out the anti-semitism label.

  38. 38
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @The Moar You Know: Thanks. Truly a full service blog.

    I ordered a Midland MXT275 (15w, display in handset). It is coming tomorrow. I thought I would get it installed and then ask around for the best antenna setup. Any brands/suggestions?

  39. 39
    prostratedragon says:

    @Roger Moore: Yeah, he’s pretty screwy.

  40. 40
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Roger Moore: Truly glad I no longer give a shit. YMMV.

  41. 41
    The Moar You Know says:

    I ordered a Midland MXT275 (15w, display in handset). It is coming tomorrow. I thought I would get it installed and then ask around for the best antenna setup. Any brands/suggestions?

    @A Ghost To Most: Nagoya UT-72. They sell them on Amazon, about 30 bucks. Works on VHF/UHF as well if you ever get a ham license.

  42. 42
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @The Moar You Know: You recommend a mag mount rather than permanent? I’m glad I asked. So truck has a sunroof – mount in front or behind it?

  43. 43
    zhena gogolia says:

    @Ninedragonspot:

    I wonder if Adams knew Teller’s daughter at Harvard (https://www.amazon.com/Wendy-Teller/e/B07BZG9JGF).

  44. 44
    CapnMubbers says:

    @Gary K: Thanks very much, I do, and I will!

  45. 45
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Roger Moore:

    The opposite of real numbers are imaginary numbers

    Imaginary numbers aren’t “the opposite” of real numbers, they’re more like orthogonal to them

  46. 46
    The Moar You Know says:

    You recommend a mag mount rather than permanent? I’m glad I asked. So truck has a sunroof – mount in front or behind it?

    @A Ghost To Most: Unless the truck is a junker, I’d go with mag mount. I have found few folks that know how to cut a hole in a vehicle and not cause a massive rust issue. Me included. Behind the sunroof. Take it off when not in use.

  47. 47
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ninedragonspot:

    Wasn’t Teller a pretty notorious raging asshole? Sugarcoating him seems like a bad idea.

  48. 48
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @A Ghost To Most: Whatever location will give you the larger “circle” of metal around the mounting point.

  49. 49
    Sanjuro58 says:

    Saw a link over at Zandar Versus The Stupid about all Five members of West Virginia Supreme Court are getting impeached.
    http://zandarvts.blogspot.com/.....ginia.html

  50. 50
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @The Moar You Know: Excellent. Thanks much, including the antenna recommendation. It sounds like you have been at this awhile. For us, it is a safety issue, plus the ability to help someone else if needed. I have a full complement of recovery equipment.

  51. 51
    efgoldman says:

    @Sanjuro58:

    all Five members of West Virginia Supreme Court are getting impeached.

    For reals or just some back bencher making noise to hear him/herself talk?

  52. 52
  53. 53
    Jay says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    Cut hole,

    Seal edges with epoxy paint,

    Dry fit antenna base and mask around it,

    Install antenna on a bed of urethane sealant, tighten finger tight, clean up excess sealant,

    Let sealant cure,

    Tighten antenna mount.

  54. 54
    efgoldman says:

    @efgoldman: Never mind. Cole posted the whole story next page.

  55. 55
    The Moar You Know says:

    Whatever location will give you the larger “circle” of metal around the mounting point.

    @Gin & Tonic: In this case, it would be a pretty small circle. Wavelength of GMRS is 70 cm (slightly less in reality). Ground plane needs to be at least a quarter wave – 6.88 inches. Call it seven. So, a seven inch circle. However, for mobile use the entire body of the vehicle becomes the groundplane, and that’s by far large enough for anything down to 10 meters or so (29mhz).

    I use a magmount sometimes as a base antenna and put it on a small frying pan. It’s big enough.

  56. 56
    Ninedragonspot says:

    @Mnemosyne: not my department, but yes I think Teller was a nasty piece of work. What I think Goodman was referring to was a conceptual opposition between Oppenheimer and Teller, with specific reference to the characters as Jews, that was perhaps discussed in the early stages of the libretto.

  57. 57

    @Ninedragonspot: I can’t say what went on between Goodman and Adams, but the historical fact is that there was a rivalry between Oppenheimer and Teller. Teller wanted to pursue his “Super” (basically the hydrogen bomb), and Oppenheimer had a deadline to meet. Then, when the question arose about Oppenheimer’s clearance, Teller was happy to put in a bad word.

    There is a hint of the difficulty in dealing with Teller in the opera, but not a lot. The person I went to the opera with thought that Teller came off a lot better than he deserved to.

    None of that has to do with either man’s religion (or lack thereof). But the LLNL folks will probably point out that I spent my career at Los Alamos, and that some prejudice may be involved on those grounds.

  58. 58
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Have you read American Prometheus? Can you recommend it? I bought it a while ago but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  59. 59
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @The Moar You Know: I think Trump works with PSA numbers ; “Pulls Stuff from his’ Auxiliary”, to to say.

  60. 60

    @Gin & Tonic: I think American Prometheus is one of the best of the Oppenheimer biographies.

  61. 61
    Ninedragonspot says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Right. Goodman’s problems with the early stages of the libretton concerned the framing of the Oppenheimer-Teller opposition. That so little of that opposition remains in the final work might tell us something about how bad the initial conception might have been. I tend to trust Goodman more than I trust Adams.

  62. 62
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: It should also be noted that Teller’s “Super” design was a super boondoggle until Stanislaw Ulam rescued it with the staged-implosion concept. The Teller-Ulam** configuration is the basis for all thermonuclear weapons more advanced than Sakharov’s Sloika (“layer cake”) which is really a boosted-fission device.

    IIRC Teller was traumatized as a child by the short-lived Communist regime of Bela Kun in Hungary, which may partially justify his zealotry to build the Super to cow the Soviets. But only partially. Nasty piece of work otherwise.

    ** More properly, Ulam-Teller, but the Polish mathematician was no match for the obsessive publicity hound from Budapest. Teller was more “Fathead of the H-Bomb” than its father.

  63. 63
    Ninedragonspot says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Right. Just to be clear: Goodman’s problems with the early stages of the libretton concerned the framing of the Oppenheimer-Teller opposition. That so little of that opposition remains in the final work might tell us something about how bad the initial conception might have been. I tend to trust Goodman more than I trust Adams.

  64. 64
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @The Moar You Know: Thanks to both of you. I have a better idea now of both how the antenna works, and where to put it.

Comments are closed.