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

A newly discovered song by Alma Mahler

It is well known that in addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more - perhaps as many as one hundred - were written and have been lost or destroyed.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

Glyndebourne Opera Cup 2018: semi-finalists announced

The semi-finalists for the first Glyndebourne Opera Cup have been announced. Following a worldwide search that attracted nearly 200 entries, and preliminary rounds in Berlin, London and Philadelphia, 23 singers aged 21-28 have been chosen to compete in the semi-final at Glyndebourne on 22 March.

ENO announces Studio Live casts and three new Harewood Artists

English National Opera (ENO) has announced the casts for Acis and Galatea and Paul Bunyan, 2018’s two ENO Studio Live productions. ENO Studio Live forms part of ENO Outside which takes ENO’s work to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered opera before, presenting the immense power of opera in more intimate studio and theatre environments.

Handel in London: 2018 London Handel Festival

The 2018 London Handel Festival explores Handel’s relationship with the city. Running from 17 March to 16 April 2018, the Festival offers four weeks of concerts, talks, walks & film screenings explore masterpieces by Handel, from semi-staged operas to grand oratorio and lunchtime recitals.

Dartington International Summer School & Festival: 70th anniversary programme

Internationally-renowned Dartington Summer School & Festival has released the course programme for its 70th Anniversary Summer School and Festival, curated by the pianist Joanna MacGregor, that will run from 28th July to 25th of August 2018.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

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):