’Nixon in China’ makes HD debut Saturday
When Nixon in China is simulcast this Saturday at movie theaters throughout the country, it is another landmark for John Adams’ seminal opera.
The February 12 matinee will be transmitted worldwide through The Met: Live in high definition.
Click here to find out where the opera is playing in the United States. Click here for international locations.
Just last week the opera had its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera, an event that its creators never thought would happen when the opera premiered in 1987. At that time the Met was more a repository of classics from the operatic repertoire - new operas were ignored. At that time the last opera premiered at the Met was in 1967 (Mourning Becomes Elektra) and the next wouldn’t be until 1991 (The Ghost of Versailles). An opera as seemingly radical as Adams’ take on President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 seemed inconceivable.
But under the leadership of Peter Gelb, the Met’s current General Manager, new operas and premieres of operas seen elsewhere (but not the Met) have been encouraged. Adams even had an opera - Doctor Atomic - commissioned by the Met. It had its premiere in 2005.
Yet having Nixon In China join the Met repertory must seem especially sweet to the opera’s production team - composer Adams, librettist Alice Goodman, director Peter Sellars, choreographer Mark Morris, set designer Adrianne Lobel and the baritone James Maddalena, who created the title role.
Hearing Adams driving score today makes one wonder why it seemed so radical back in 1987. I remember attending a performance of its initial run at the Kennedy Center.and sitting next to a couple in their 30s who made a spectacle every bit as dramatic as what was transpiring on the stage. As Adams’ majestic music for the first scene - Nixon’s arrival in China complete with set designer Adrienne Lobel’s mock 747 - played, the man became agitated, moving around in his seat and speaking out loud at what he thought was a mockery of history and Western Music. His partner tried to quiet him, to no avail. Finally, an usher came down and told him either to shut up or leave, which he promptly did, much to the relief of the rest of us in the audience.
Perhaps this man’s response was extreme, but it wasn’t that far removed from some of the responses from the critics of the time. Donal Henahan in the New York Times called it "a Peter Sellars variety show, worth a few giggles but hardly a strong candidate for the standard repertory.
"Beneath the lacquered surface there is more lacquer. In spite of chic staging, eye-catching sets and a couple of lively ballet sequences, Nixon in China’ works to redefine the concept of boredom. The basic problem, however, must be placed at the feet of Mr. Adams’s score.... Mr. Adams does for the arpeggio what McDonald’s did for the hamburger, grinding out one simple idea unto eternity."
What a difference a generation makes. Compare those quotes to the recent Times review by Anthony Tommasini. "The standard thing to say would be that the Met’s embrace of "Nixon in China" is way overdue. The opera and the production may have come to the Met at just the right time to comprehend the continuing resonances of this audacious and moving opera....
"This specific production, which played at the English National Opera in 2006, was rebuilt for the larger dimensions of the Met’s stage. But Mr. Sellars’s concept, which presents the story with vivid realism and fanciful style, is unaltered. When you get something right at the start, why change it?"
Maddalena encores Nixon
The Met’s new production is conducted by the composer and features Maddalena as Richard Nixon, a role he created at the opera’s world premiere in 1987 and has performed at leading opera houses around the world. Nixon in China will also feature Janis Kelly as Pat Nixon, Kathleen Kim as Chiang Ch’ing, Robert Brubaker as Mao Tse-tung, Russell Braun as Chou En-lai, and Richard Paul Fink as Henry Kissinger.
According to a press release, "Maddalena has sung Nixon on many of the world’s leading stages, including the English National Opera, Netherlands Opera, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Washington Opera, and the Théâtre du Châtelet. Kelly, who also starred in the recent English National Opera revival of the opera, is making her Met debut as Pat Nixon. Met star Kathleen Kim, who won critical plaudits for her Zerbinetta and Olympia in recent seasons, will take on the challenging coloratura role of Chiang Ch’ing, the forbidding and formidable wife of Mao Tse-tung.
"Brubaker has sung in many 20th-century works at the Met, including Moses und Aron, The Makropoulos Case, Peter Grimes, and the Met premiere of Busoni’s Doktor Faust. Braun is best-known to Met audiences for his Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, which he sang in 2000, 2003 and 2007. Fink, who also sings Alberich in Robert Lepage’s new production of Das Rheingold this March, sang principal roles in the Met premieres of Adams’ Doctor Atomic and John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby.
The opera’s libretto is by American poet Alice Goodman, who also collaborated with Adams and Sellars on the opera The Death of Klinghoffer. The Met’s production will feature the work of the world premiere production’s design team, including set designer Adrianne Lobel, costume designer Dunya Ramicova, lighting designer James F. Ingalls, and choreographer Mark Morris. "
The February 12 matinee will be transmitted to more than 1,500 movie theaters in more than 40 countries globally as part of The Met: Live in HD series. It will be broadcast live over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network.
For more details about the production visit the Metropolitan Opera website.