Alice Goodman, who wrote the librettos for John Adams' Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, withdrew from Adams' Doctor Atomic because she believed the project was anti-Semitic, she told the London Guardian.
The opera, which opens at San Francisco Opera tomorrow, depicts the invention and testing of the atomic bomb by Robert Oppenheimer and other scientists in the New Mexico desert in 1945.
"I found that the structure John and Peter had got together with me was really anti-Semitic," Goodman said, "with Oppenheimer as the good blue-eyed Jew and Edward Teller"—who clashed with Oppenheimer and later helped invent the hydrogen bomb&mdash"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."
Adams told the paper that before the project started, he "thought Alice would do something wonderful, because she does marvelous things in Nixon with the American language of the time. But after a year of trying to write…she decided she couldn't do it."
The composer added that "her preposterous reason for not being able to deliver a libretto strikes me as speaking more about her own private preoccupations than about the reality of the Oppenheimer story."
In the end, director Peter Sellars assembled the libretto for the much-anticipated opera from poems and historical sources.
The Death of Klinghoffer, which was also based on historical events, remains the source of considerable controversy more than a decade after its premiere in 1991. Some critics have accused Adams and Goodman of anti-Semitism in their treatment of Palestinian terrorists and their Jewish victim; others consider the work anti-Palestinian.