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Doctor Atomic 2018

Doctor Atomic 2018

July 14 - August 16, 2018

I Am Become Death…

The countdown ticks towards July 16, 1945. Los Alamos scientists confront their doubts and fears about the world-changing device they’ve created. Hear John Adams’ ominous and uncommonly beautiful homage to science fiction films of the 1950s while overlooking the mountains where it all started.

Music By
John Adams
Libretto By
Peter Sellars


Act I

Scene 1. Los Alamos, New Mexico; June 1945. Physicists, engineers, and military personnel are preparing the first atomic bomb for its test and imminent use. The chorus describes Einstein’s breakthrough in understanding the nature of energy and matter. The country is at war, and pressure to have the bomb ready for deployment generates an air of intense, nervous activity. Edward Teller reads Robert Oppenheimer a letter from physicist Leo Szilard which urges scientists to take a stand about what many feel is the government’s unethical use of their research. Robert Wilson, a young protégé of Oppenheimer, announces a meeting about the morality of atomic bombing. Oppenheimer warns that such a discussion is potentially treasonous. He describes his recent visit to Washington where decisions on Japanese targets were made.

Scene 2. The Oppenheimers’ bedroom; evening of the same day. Oppenheimer is absorbed with paperwork, oblivious to his wife Kitty. She tries to get his attention. He ignores her, and then, suddenly aroused, makes extravagant love to her in their secret code of the words of Baudelaire. Kitty responds, “Love must imagine the world.”

Scene 3. Alamogordo, New Mexico; the Trinity test site; July 15, 1945. The bomb awaits final adjustments for the midnight test, threatened by a huge thunderstorm. General Groves, under pressure from Washington, will not move the test. No one knows whether the bomb will work. Lightning could strike. Groves is furious with meteorologist Frank Hubbard who refuses to predict good weather. Meanwhile, Groves’ refusal to postpone means there will be no evacuations despite the threat of nuclear fallout. The storm begins to abate. Groves and Oppenheimer have a moment of quiet. Alone, conflicted, and exhausted, the plutonium sphere looming above him, Oppenheimer pours himself into John Donne’s wrenching sonnet, “Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God.”

Act II

Scene 1. The Oppenheimers’ residence; the same evening. Kitty and her Tewa housekeeper Pasqualita are with the Oppenheimers’ children, awaiting news of the test. Kitty is drinking and in a fierce soliloquy evokes images of war, death, and resurrection. Pasqualita sings a traditional Pueblo ‘home song,’ “In the north the cloud-flower blossoms … and now the rain comes down.”

Scene 2. The Trinity test site; midnight. Wilson, assigned to make last-minute checks, is on a ladder face-to-face with the sphere while rain lashes his face. He and Hubbard have doubts about proceeding with the test. Teller reminds everyone that there was a serious theoretical debate that an atomic explosion might set fire to the atmosphere. Oppenheimer says this catastrophic scenario has been disproven. Hubbard cannot guarantee any improvement in the weather. Groves ignores him, ordering the test to proceed at dawn.

Scene 3 (Countdown Part 1). The Trinity test site/Oppenheimer’s residence. Groves admits suspicions about the loyalty of some scientists. Oppenheimer, in a state of extreme stress, begins to hallucinate. He is swept up in the life-giving rituals of the corn dance, and the voices of Kitty and Pasqualita prophesy in the night. The scientists and Groves, unable to sleep, make bets on the bomb’s yield. Teller alone predicts a successful yield — and later is proven right.

Chorus: “At the Sight of This”. Oppenheimer has a vision of Vishnu, “full of mouths and eyes, feet, thighs and bellies … All the worlds are fear-struck.”

Scene 4 (Countdown Part 2). The Trinity test site/Oppenheimer’s residence. Oppenheimer has brought a copy of Baudelaire’s poetry to distract himself from the anxiety of waiting. Hubbard announces that the sky has cleared. The test can go on. Kitty, holding out the possibility of a different future, sings, “We are hopes. You should have hoped us. We are dreams. You should have dreamed us.” The countdown reaches its critical stage. Everyone hunkers down, awaiting the detonation. The bomb explodes, causing a shock of blinding white light followed by an immense, luminous cloud on the horizon. The voice of a Japanese woman pleads for water.


Ryan McKinny headshot

Ryan McKinny


Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer

Julia Bullock headshot

Julia Bullock


Kitty Oppenheimer

Ben Bliss headshot

Ben Bliss


Robert Wilson

Daniel Okulitch headshot

Daniel Okulitch


General Leslie Groves

Meredith Arwady headshot

Meredith Arwady



Andrew Harris headshot

Andrew Harris


Edward Tellar

Tim Mix headshot

Tim Mix


Jack Hubbard

Mackenzie Gotcher headshot

Mackenzie Gotcher


Captain James Nolan

Matthew Aucoin headshot

Matthew Aucoin


Peter Sellars headshot

Peter Sellars


David Gropman headshot

David Gropman

Scenic Designer

Gabriel Berry headshot

Gabriel Berry

Costume Designer

James Ingalls headshot

James F. Ingalls

Lighting Designer

Mark Grey headshot

Mark Grey

Sound Designer

Emily Johnson headshot

Emily Johnson


Susanne Sheston headshot

Susanne Sheston

Chorus Master