"News has a kind of mystery," sings James Maddalena in his landmark role as Richard Nixon in John Adams's first opera, Nixon in China.
Maddalena returns to the role this month as the opera has its Met premiere under the baton of the composer. In the more than twenty years since the opera premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in a performance that featured Maddalena in the lead, perceptions of both Richard Nixon and China have changed radically.
Nixon's actual 1972 visit to China continues to be remembered in grand terms. Nixon himself famously described it as "the week that changed the world." Bernard Kalb, one of the journalists present on the trip, states simply, "history had just happened."
But it is perhaps in the quiet, sweeping undertones and pulsating themes of Nixon in China that still richer insights can be heard. "What's beautiful about Nixon in China is that, across the evening, we gain a little humility," commented director Peter Sellars in a recent interview with the New York Times. "And so none of the acts end with these triumphant pronouncements, but end with a little more sense of humility, that we're in a much larger, deeper world. And what we don't understand is just as important as what we think we understand."
Cast and credits:
Conductor: John Adams
Chian Ch'ing: Kathleen Kim
Pat Nixon: Janis Kelly
Mao Tse-tung: Robert Brubaker
Chou En-lai: Russell Braun
Richard Nixon: James Maddalena
Henry Kissinger: Richard Paul Fink
Production: Peter Sellars