Doctor Atomic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, John Adams

“I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu… says: ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’.” – Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s words describe the moment when the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945, at the Trinity site in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This famous quote does not appear in Peter Sellars’ libretto for John Adams’ opera Doctor Atomic, but lines from the Bhagavad-Gitado, scattered among transcripts of the people involved in the Manhattan Project.

Sellars had the idea of melding original source material – some newly declassified – with poetry that...