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)
•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
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
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
vMusical Excerpt: Opening scene
The Nixons (and Henry Kissinger) arrive in China, and Chou-En-lai (Premier/Prime Minister) greets.
vMusical Excerpt: “News has a kind of mystery”
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".
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”
The main characters reflect on past.
Chi’ang says the revolution should not end.
Opera ends with Zhou (Premier) wondering “how much of what we did was good?”
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
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.”
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