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 Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mao Zedong and Richard Nixon
15 Feb 2017

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Mao Zedong and Richard Nixon

 

When it premiered in Houston in 1987 the American critics were divided about its merits, but the reception at its European premiere in Amsterdam the following year was unanimously enthusiastic. Adams’s account of Richard Nixon’s 1972 historic visit to the People’s Republic of China, told through the polychrome poetry of librettist Alice Goodman, has since claimed a place in the repertoire. Last Saturday’s performance at the Concertgebouw, led by conductor Kevin John Edusei, did full justice to all its key musical aspects: the tidal tug of its repeated motifs, its rhythmic adroitness and its reflective lyricism.

From the very first bars, Edusei showed a complete trust in the score. He let the iterations of the introduction work their hypnotic effect, without interfering with their dynamics, then turned the volume up suddenly for the deafening landing of the presidential plane in Peking. Adams belongs to the American minimalist movement, but he does not let minimalism cramp his style. Besides minimalist traits such as persistent figures and a pulsating bass, Nixon in China includes references to Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, sassy big band sounds and a big peppering of percussive jolts inspired by Stravinsky. The orchestration gives saxophones and trombones a prominent role, and includes two pianos and a keyboard sampler. The urgency and eruptions in the orchestra reveal the momentousness of the events being televised live across the world, while the singers repeatedly detach themselves from their public personae to express their inner thoughts. With the sparest of gestures Edusei made the score swish, swirl and bounce, and not just when the Mr. and Mrs. Mao dance the foxtrot.

The National Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands, consisting of Conservatory students, gave a professional-quality performance, with a smooth and agile string section at its core. The slightly raw edge in the trumpets and trombones suited the brashness required from the brass. (At one point they imitate grunting pigs.) Percussionist Frank Nelissen was a one-man, beat-perfect combo, playing everything from slapsticks to drums. The chorus, Cappella Amsterdam, delivered their usual youthful, homogeneous sound and they were undaunted by the challenges of the irregular rhythms. The soloists, amplified as prescribed by the score, gave highly involved portrayals. Robin Adams oozed confidence as the statesman Nixon, his baritone secure and his consonants sharp as flint. He also displayed lyrical suppleness and a touch of vulnerability as Nixon the man, ambling down memory lane in conversation with his wife. His diction was crystal-clear, as was Janis Kelly’s in the role of Pat Nixon. Kelly sang with irreproachable operatic technique and the subtleties of a musical actress, every accent and colour sounding natural. Her Pat was a likeable mixture of practicality and feminine warmth.

As Prime Minister Chou En-lai, veteran David Wilson-Johnson compensated for his powdery baritone, at times close to cracking, by twanging out his top notes and infusing every phrase with meaning. Olle Persson sang robustly and with a slight sibilant accent as Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State and stage-manager of the Sino-American rapprochement. Persson’s barky baritone also fit the bill when Kissinger doubles as the baddie in Madame Mao’s revolutionary ballet, The Red Detachment of Women, put on for the benefit of the American guests. Dramatic tenor Michael Weinius made a heroic Mao Tse-tung, totally at ease with the wide intervals and high tessitura. Evanna Lai, Iris van Wijnen and Helena Rasker were excellent as his dusky-voiced Secretaries, beautifully blended and sounding slightly sinister. Mao’s wife, Chian Ch’ing, was sung by soprano Yun-Jeong Lee, who thrillingly hit all the high notes in her soapbox aria "I am the Wife of Mao Tse-tung”. In the final act she glided through her soliloquy “I can keep still” with gorgeous elegance.

The ruminative nature of Act III, with its contrast to the eventfulness of the first two acts, can seem anti-climactic. The participants in this extraordinary political episode retire to their bedrooms and reflect on their lives, reminiscing on their past. Adams sends his characters to sleep with a Straussian violin solo as Chou En-lai wonders whether his political decisions were the right ones. In a concert version, it can be hard to keep track of the divergent monologues without the help of visual cues from the stage. It hardly mattered — this top-tier performance stayed musically riveting to the end.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Richard Nixon: Robin Adams, baritone; Pat Nixon: Janis Kelly, soprano; Chou En-lai: David Wilson-Johnson, baritone; Mao Tse-tung: Michael Weinius, tenor; Henry Kissinger: Olle Persson, baritone; Chian Ch’ing: Yun-Jeong Lee, soprano; Nancy T’ang, First Secretary to Mao: Evanna Lai, mezzo-soprano; Second Secretary to Mao: Iris van Wijnen, mezzo-soprano; Third Secretary to Mao: Helena Rasker, alto. Cappella Amsterdam, National Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands. Conductor: Kevin John Edusei. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Saturday, 11th February 2017.

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):