“Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”
John Donne (1572-1631), Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d GodIt isn’t often that I come in touch with a subject as big as Second Life, but this is certainly an example. Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve seen ‘Dr. Atomic‘ 3 times, which is a new opera created by Peter Sellars and John Adams and showing at the San Francisco Opera. This isn’t your standard tragic-love-story opera fare – it is a tense, riveting meditation on the hours and minutes that preceded the first testing of the atomic bomb in the deserts of New Mexico, 1945.The John Donne sonnet whose first few lines I quoted here was apparently the inspiration for Oppenheimer’s naming the first test ‘Trinity’. It is sung at the end of the first act by Oppenheimer (played by Gerald Finley), and I think it will probably go down in history as one of Opera’s great Arias. Absolutely spine-tingling words and music: Oppenheimer sings to the bomb, which is hanging at the base of the test tower and backlit to cast a stark shadow against a sheet that separates him from it.
One subject which is sung about during the opera is the not-completely-dispelled worry that the heat of the detonation would ignite the earth’s atmosphere. And yet the test went forward! On that day in 1945, technology finally let us know, for sure, that we could use it to destroy ourselves. Could it be that the darkness of that first explosion suggests in the same breath the opposite: that technology might also be able to save us? I hope so.