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date: 23 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The libretto of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic (2005), by Peter Sellars, was “drawn from original sources”—one of a number of factors that endowed the opera with an aura of historical truthfulness. Yet from its inception, the composer also acknowledged a relationship between the opera and Faust mythology, even as he downplayed its impact on the work. In fact, analysis of the libretto and the musical setting reveals that they contain numerous references to earlier Faustian works, musical and literary. These references take the form of direct verbal quotation, the adaptation of musical material, and the incorporation of Faustian themes. The opera’s engagement with Faustian works by Baudelaire, Thomas Mann, Goethe, Stravinsky, and Liszt conflicts with attributions of historical authenticity that appeared at the time of its premiere.

Keywords: Faust, Goethe, John Adams, Peter Sellars, opera, Doctor Atomic, Thomas Mann, Igor Stravinsky, Charles Baudelaire

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