Adams's Nixon in China

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

"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

Comments [13]


Neither Adams nor Galss writes music. They write something than might be called organized noise.

Feb. 19 2011 01:24 PM

Brenda you're filing a complaint with the FCC? Someone should file a complaint against you, for child abuse, for letting your young children listen to Nixon in China.

As for Adams not sounding like Glass, I never said he did, I said 2nd rate Glass. The same repetitive minimalist approaches, the same existing Glass structures without the same success. Though great chucks of Nixon are indeed romantic and different from Glass' style.

Feb. 12 2011 10:04 PM
C. Sarkisian from Forked River, NJ

I guess the next pledge drive will be to pay off the FCC fines!

Feb. 12 2011 08:52 PM
Pablo Fanques from The Bronx

I agree with Brenda. You can't tell me no one at WQXR knew that word would be going out live. Since the Met broadcasts are national, I imagine the FCC will be looking into this and levying fines.

Feb. 12 2011 08:42 PM
Brenda Renetti from Brooklyn

No, Richard, the radio station should not have aired that line. It's not "salty," it's profanity. I don't know the opera so I had no idea that line was coming up. It is the radio station's responsibility to know what it is airing.

Feb. 12 2011 08:31 PM
Richard from UES

Get a grip, Brenda. Your kids probably hear far worse language on the streets of NYC every day. They announced at the start of act three that some salty language was coming up. You could have turned off the radio at the point if their sensibilities were so delicate that they couldn't handle it.

Feb. 12 2011 08:23 PM
Brenda Renetti from Brooklyn

I can't believe WQXR allowed profanity on the air. During the "Nixon In China" live broadcast, I heard the soprano say, "We'll teach these motherf***ers how to dance."
My young children were listening. You can't tell me that no one at WQXR knew this line was in the opera and that it would be on the air? Shameful! I am filing a complaint with the FCC.

Feb. 12 2011 08:12 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

NIXON IN CHINA, conducted by the composer John Adams in today's [Feb. 12th,2011] "Met" Opera radio broadcast evinced a sense of "somethin's coming" from the orchestra's very beginning, pulsating with the pedal point blanket of minimalism. The characters are sharply drawn, the vocal lines are symbiotic to the text's flow. If one is seeking plot or passionate love-making or ethos or
essential political resolvement, this is not your opera. CHARACTER revelation is the main ingredient. It is singable, but only in the cases of Mao and Mrs. Mao are there show-stopping arias. The opera's broadcast has just concluded. I am sure repeated hearings will add to its appreciation by its listeners.

Feb. 12 2011 04:50 PM

I don't really know how people can compare Adams to Glass. In a big way, Adams isn't even a minimalist. His ideas develop in a very romantic way, not the slow metamorphosis that glass is known for. Sure, there are 'simpler' harmonies, but the underlying philosophies are almost completely different. I always like to think that if Reich, Glass and Riley are baroque and classic minimalism, that Adams is romantic. His lush orchestrations and humanistic qualities are a testament to that.

Feb. 12 2011 03:08 PM
Richard from Brooklyn

Funny, this was the first opera I ever saw and I had the opposite reaction. I was swept away by the contemporary story, Adams's lush melodies and the sheer brilliance of the musical craftsmanship. Hearing it 20 years later I'm struck again by what a great masterpiece it is.

Feb. 12 2011 02:03 PM
Vic from NJ somewhere

Will this performance of, NIXON IN CHINA, be re-broadcast on, & if so, when ?
I hope...

Feb. 12 2011 01:59 PM

So far it does sound like second rate Phillip Glass. Hmm this is going to be a long afternoon.

Feb. 12 2011 01:26 PM
Howard L. Levin from Jersey City, New Jersey

If "Nixon in China" was the first opera I ever heard, I would never listen to opera again. Repeated "motifs" and statements do not make a beautiful opera. Bah! Humbug!!!

Feb. 12 2011 01:21 PM

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