Gerald Finley was a fan for years, so when the chance to create the leading role in John Adams’ Doctor Atomiccame along he seized it with both hands. Fifteen years on, he talks to Clive Paget about the challenge of getting to grips with J Robert Oppenheimer and learning to love the bomb.

What was your first exposure to John Adams’ music?

It was a sort of two pronged attack, really. I’d heard about John through various people who’d say have you heard  Nixon in China? That was obviously something monumental in, gosh, was it ‘85? I was just a graduating baritone but people said he’s really got this amazing sense of what singers can do. It’s exciting, and he’s worth checking out. I then found that he had written this wonderful piece called  The Wound-Dresser, and I thought oh, I’d really, really love to sing that. Walt Whitman, it struck a chord with me. And you know what? I’ve yet to sing it. But the most wonderful thing was when English National Opera said they hoped to reopen after refurbishment in 2004 with  Nixon in China and they’d like me to do Chou En-lai. In the end, the building wasn’t quite ready, but we...

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