Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Le Nozze di Figaro, Manitoba Opera

To borrow from the great Bard himself: “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

Arizona Opera Presents Florencia in el Amazonas

Florencia in el Amazonas was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major United States opera houses.

Viva la Mamma!: A Fun Evening at POP

Gaetano Donizetti wrote a comedy or dramma giocoso called Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali (The Conventions and Inconveniences of the Theater), which is also known by the shorter title, Viva La Mamma!.

LA Opera Norma: A Feast for the Ears

Vincenzo Bellini composed Norma to a libretto that Felice Romani had fashioned after Alexandre Soumet’s French play, Norma, ossia L'infanticidio (Norma, or The Infanticide).

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In order to mount a successful production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, first performed in 1925, the dramatic intensity and lyrical beauty of the score must become the focal point for participants.

A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century. In recent days,

Florilegium at Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704).

Leoncavallo’s Zazà by Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà — a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights — is a walking compendium of emotions.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.



Richard Nixon [Source: Wikipedia]
28 Sep 2012

Nixon in China at the BBC Proms

John Adams’s Nixon in China has become one of the most successful operas in the late 20th/early 21st century wave of post-modernist attempts to revitalise the operatic tradition. It has even started its own sub-genre, the so-called CNN opera.

John Adams : NIxon in China

Madame Mao: Kathleen Kim, Chairman Mao: Alan Oke, Chou En-Lai: Gerald Finley, President Nixon: Robert Orth, Pat Nixon: Jessica Rivera, Kissinger: James Rutherford, Secretary: Stephanie Marshall, Secretary: Louise Poole, Secretary: Susan Platts, Stage Director: Paul Curran, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, Conductor: John Adams

Royal Albert Hall, London 5th September 2012

Above: Richard Nixon [Source: Wikipedia]


The opera’s success owes something to Adams’s very personal musical style, with its inspirations from minimalism but with a liking for dramatic juxtapositions and willingness to embraces singable lines and individual characterisation. But the opera also owes a lot to Adams’s collaborators, director Peter Sellers and librettist Alice Goodman. It was Sellers who helped ensure that the opera was dramatically and dramaturgically sound, and Goodman who created the beautifully poetic libretto. One of the great tragedies of contemporary opera is that the furore surrounding The Death of Klinghoffer prevented the three from collaborating again. For the Prom on Wednesday5 September, the BBC had invited John Adams to conduct Nixon in China at the Royal Albert Hall.

Adams conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers with predominantly transatlantic principals. There was a staging of sorts by Paul Curran, with dramatic lighting. But this was an interesting opportunity to hear the work divorced from the iconic Peter Sellers production. The soloists were placed in front of the orchestra and were reliant on TV monitors and a repetiteur placed in the arena for communication with Adams, so not quite ideal circumstances.

Another drawback was that the acoustic intervention, that every Adams event like this has, was less than perfect. All the singers had individual microphones but the projection of each was rather variable; an effect perhaps of the infamous Royal Albert Hall acoustic. The singers used scores, but were certainly not static and Paul Curran managed to create both drama and humour, even the BBC Singers were involved, shouting, waving flags, manipulating a model of ‘The Spirit of 76’ and holding up Mao’s little red book.

Robert Orth as Nixon was new to me, though he was played the role on numerous occasions in the USA and is on the Naxos recording. As a visual and dramatic representation of Richard Nixon he was excellent, giving us a convincing visual simulacrum. Musically, I was less convinced and had rather wished that the BBC had had the courage to employ a singer who did not look like Nixon. In a non-representational semi-staging, all of Orth’s tics and visual mannerisms became wearing. Orth is an experienced singer, very experienced, his career dates back to the 1970’s; quite whether he was the best person for the role I am not sure.

His iconic opening aria was sung well enough, but it was far less than imposing. Without a life size representation of ‘The Spirit of 76’ behind him (we had to make to with a tiny model), he needed much more authority. Without authority and gravitas, there was a danger of Nixon being simply a buffoon. That this could be done was shown but Gerald Finley who managed to imbue every note of Chou En-lai’s statements with authority and commitment, making the role seem far more than it really is. I’d even begun to wonder what Finley might have been like as Nixon.

Where Orth came over well was in the quieter more intimate scenes with Jessica Rivera’s Pat Nixon. US born Rivera has appeared in a number of Adams’s operas, making her European debut in Doctor Atomic with Netherlands Opera. She made a poised, sympathetic Pat Nixon. Singing with a lovely rich toned lyric voice which brought radiance to the more purple passages.

James Rutherford played Kissinger with energy and gravitas but didn’t quite succeed in making complete sense of what is rather a diffuse and diverse role. I think that it is the role of Kissinger that most benefits from a detailed full staging.

Gerald Finley made Chou En-lai the central role of the opera, without appearing to actually do anything. He certainly brought convincing commitment to the rather densely purple philosophising, and was profoundly touching in the final monologue. It was an object lesson in how character can be created in this opera without over doing things.

Alan Oke brought similar commitment, and fearlessness, to Chairman Mao. His delivery of the role, with its high tessitura, was masterly. And he made Mao’s odd philosophical statements seem coherent, bringing real anger at the right moments. The irony of this role is that Adams has given wickedly high music to a character that is ailing (at least in the first act). Oke did not sound ailing, but he looked convincingly so.

Oke was ably supported by Louise Poole, Stephanie Marshall and Susan Platts as the three secretaries. They managed to sing and perform in neat unison and executed all of Curran’s comic moments with wonderful, dead-pan aplomb.

Curran could not manage to disguise the fact that the ballet sequence in act two out-stayed its welcome. Without a dance troop and Mark Morris’s choreography to cheer things up, the lack of real drama began to tell. This satirical sequence, based on one of Madam Mao’s infamous workers ballets has always seemed a saggy part of the opera.

So it was with more than usual relief that we welcomed the appearance of Korean soprano Kathleen Kim as Madam Mao and her stunning delivery of the showpiece aria ‘I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung’. Kim’s command of the coloratura and acuti was impressive. It has to be admitted that her tone seemed a little hard, but then this is in keeping with the character.

The final act would, I think, have benefited from not being staged. As it was Curran’s staging did not match many of the stage directions. And the characters are not really doing anything, I just wanted to be able to sit back and listen.

Bringing the orchestra out of the pit meant that we could appreciate even more the amazing and luminous effects Adams gets with his orchestration, especially as the BBC Symphony Orchestra were on such strong form. Adams seemed to take a moderately steady view of the work, concerned perhaps that everything could be heard clearly. This meant that come of the more dramatic passages lacked the visceral thrill that other conductors bring to them. The timings of Adams’s performance seemed to indicate that he was overall marginally slower than Marin Alsop on the Naxos recording, and Alsop’s speeds are marginally slower than those of Edo de Waart on the premiere recording.

Also, some sequences seemed oddly stilted with gaps between the in a way that I don’t think I have heard before. But then, I’ve never heard the composer conduct the work, nor was I following it with a score.

This was quite a long evening (7pm to 10.30pm with two 20 minute intervals) and there were times when I thought that the piece might benefit from cutting. But it was a pleasure and a privilege to hear Adams conducting his own work.

Robert Hugill

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):