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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

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):