Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

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):