Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

John Adams: Nixon in China
20 May 2011

John Adams: Nixon in China

A quarter century having passed since its premiere, Nixon in China appears to have secured a niche in the opera repertoire, at least of American opera houses.

John Adams: Nixon in China

Richard Nixon: James Maddalena; Pat Nixon: Carolann Page; Chou En-Lai: Sanford Sylvan; Henry Kissinger: Thomas Hammons; Mao Tse-Tung: John Duykers; Madame Mao Tse-Tung: Trudy Ellen Craney. Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Conductor: Edo de Waart.

Nonesuch 79177-2 [3CDs]

$22.99  Click to buy

With music by John Adams to a libretto by Alice Goodman, Nixon in China is unlikely to eclipse La Traviata or even Porgy and Bess in frequency of stagings, but it should no longer be called a rarity. This year the opera made its debut on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, and seemingly for that milestone, Nonesuch has reissued the recording made around the time of the opera's debut.

With the passage of time, both from the original historical events covered by the opera and from the work’s premiere, when it undoubtedly seemed incredibly fresh and risky, Nixon in China might be viewed now as an audience-friendly work. It is in English, with characters, story and setting familiar to most opera goers. There are solo pieces that reward an audience’s patience with the longer passages of Adams’s minimalist scene-setting — especially Madame Mao’s high-flying aria and Nixon’s propulsive number, “News is a kind of mystery.” A ballroom dance sequence has become a fairly popular orchestra showpiece, both on classical radio and in concert programming. A minority of opera-goers might be offended by the libretto’s somewhat snarky tone toward the political figures (especially Henry Kissinger), but the majority probably are quite comfortable with the mixture of ironic detachment and forays into metaphysical poetry:

CHORUS: We saw our parents’ nakedness;
Rivers of blood will be required
To cover them. Rivers of blood.
PAT NIXON: I squeezed your paycheck till it screamed…

The only thing mitigating against even greater popularity for the opera is its length — it is in three acts, with almost three hours of music. The libretto is not exactly action-packed: in act one the American party arrives and is greeted. In act two, they attend some functions, and in the oddly low-key act three, the parties retire to bed and reflect on the experience. Each character seems to be almost autistically isolated from the others. Characters may sing over each other from time to time, but there are no true duets.

The 1987 recording captures a fine orchestra performance by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, with Edo De Waart in full command of the score’s subtle textures and rhythmic complexity. The singers had created their roles and had lived in them for at some time at the point of recording. James Maddelena’s Nixon has a security that was sadly not consistently present when he resumed the role this year at the Metropolitan. Sanford Sylvan sings with dignity as Chou En-Lai, as opposed to Thomas Hammons, who is required to slink into comic caricature as Henry Kissinger. John Duykers’s character tenor voice makes for an interesting choice as Mao-Tse-tung — instead of some gruff, heavy growl, we get a piercing, insistent tone. Carolann Page gets a pensive, but appealing solo number as Pat Nixon, and as Madame Mao, Trudy Ellen Craney fires off some high-lying coloratura.

In the world of opera, 25 years is not really all that long. It could be that Nixon in China is just beginning to assert itself as a key document in American opera history, with regular if not frequent appearances in opera houses for decades to come. Or this could be the high-point of its success, as the historical context slips into an obscure past for younger opera-goers, and the music and staging possible become a bit dated. In this fine Nonesuch recording, however, the best that the opera has to offer is recorded forever.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):