Timothy Beattie- Composer

Click here to edit subtitle

™John Adams
™Nixon in China
™(Opera in Three Acts)
™Context for this Work
™Adams worked at San Francisco Conservatory from from 1977-1982.
™San Francisco Symphony Composer-in-Residence 1982-85 (Peter Sellars approached him 1983)
™Works from this era:
Light Over Water: the Genesis of Music (1983)
Harmonielehre (1984-85)
Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986)
™
™Historical Basis for Opera
™Nixon wanted better relations with China (even though he was anti-communist) in order to influence world affairs.
™1970 China’s border war with Russia (Nixon sends memo)
™1971 Ping Pong summit
™1972 In February Nixon makes visit that ends 22 years of no communication.
™Nixon Meets Mao
™Genesis of Nixon in China
™Adams not interested in 1983.
™Alice Goodman was the librettist.
™Sellars, Adams, Goodman met in 1985 to discuss work.
™Adams didn’t like Nixon, but became interested in his complicated nature.
™Sellars (was in the midst of directing Mozart-Da Ponte operas) pushed for operatic conventions: expectant chorus, heroic aria on Mao’s entrance, dueling toasts.
™Apparently there were bitter disagreements (most critics saw no evidence in the production)
™Director, Composer, Librettist
™Musical Characteristics
™There are elements of minimalism (post-minimalist)
™Adams called Einstein on the Beach (Phillip Glass) “mindlessly repetitive”.
™“Neoclassical Stravinsky”- James Oestreich
™“Mahler meets minimalism”- Andrew Mellor
™Orchestration- no bassoons, french horns, or tuba, but does include saxes, piano, and synthesizer.
™“emphatically triadic in a way that no other work of mine ever dared to be” – John Adams
™Main Characters
™Richard Nixon- Baritone
™Pat Nixon (wife)- Soprano
™Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor)- Bass
™Chairman Mao- Tenor
™Chiang (Mao’s wife)- Coloratura Soprano
™Zhou En-lai (premier)- Baritone
™
Act I
vMusical Excerpt: Opening scene

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXXmjR0aCug

™The Nixons (and Henry Kissinger) arrive in China, and Chou-En-lai (Premier/Prime Minister) greets.
vMusical Excerpt: “News has a kind of mystery”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U-qiCXNsng

™Chairman Mao greets them in his chambers, and then they have a welcome dinner that night.
™Nixon makes toast- "Everyone, listen; just let me say one thing. I opposed China, I was wrong".
™
™Act II
™Pat Nixon tours factory, school, Summer Palace (This is Prophetic)
™Nixons attend a Chinese opera, Pat Nixon rushes onstage to stop a girl from being beaten. This angers Chiang (Mao’s wife), and she sings her dramatic aria
vMusical Excerpt: “I am the wife of Mao Tse-Tung”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1p3dNyZlXs

™Act III
™The main characters reflect on past.
vMusical Excerpt: Jazz influence https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjkstZbW8ms
™Chi’ang says the revolution should not end.
™Opera ends with Zhou (Premier) wondering “how much of what we did was good?”
™
™
™Premiere
™Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Netherlands Opera, and Washington Opera
™Nixon was invited, but declined to ill health.
™Houston Opera acquired insurance
™Reception
™Houston Opera premiere received “polite applause”
™After 1991 fell out of favor. Revived in 2000’s. Met premiere in 2011.
™Two opposing reviews:
•Television critic Marvin Kitman “There are only three things wrong with Nixon in China. One, the libretto; two, the music; three the direction. Outside of that, it’s perfect.”
•Opera critic Patrick J. Smith concluded that "Nixon in China is a great American Opera. I suspected that it was a significant work when I saw it in 1987; I was ever more convinced of its stature when I heard it subsequently, on stage and on disc, and today I am certain that it is one of the small handful of operas that will survive.”

Additional Resources:
http://www.earbox.com/ -tribute site to John Adams
http://johnadamscomposer.com/ - official website of composer
http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/adams - information about Adam's work with LA Phil

™