Saturday, January 29, 2011

Heroic couplets of Nixon and Mao at the Met in February

The opera Nixon in China (1987, music by John Adams, libretto by Alice Goodman) will be performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, February 1 to 19, 2011. This will be concurrent to performances at the Canadian Opera Company, February 5 to 26.

The opera covers Nixon's visit of five days (February 21-25, 1972) in three acts, with the key players: Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Pat Nixon, Mao Tse-Tung and his wife Chian Ch'ing, and Premier Chou En-Lai. The opening scene features the landing of the "Spirit of '76" jet, and the arrival of the Nixons. Before the plane lands, the chorus sings the opening couplets:

Soldiers of heaven hold the sky
The morning breaks and shadow fly
Follow the orders of the poor
Your master is the laborer
Who rules the world with truth and grace
Deal with him justly, face to face
Pay a fair price for all you buy
Pay to replace what you destroy
Divide the landlord's property
Take nothing from the tenantry
Do not mistreat the captive foe
Respect women, it is their due
Replace doors when you leave a house
Roll up straw matting after use...

Writing about her Libretto for the opera in 1987, Alice Goodman explained: "It would be an heroic opera—that would be the character of the work—and an opera of character—that had become inevitable—and the heroic quality of the work as a whole would be determined by the eloquence of each character in his or her own argument" (Goodman, "Towards Nixon in China").

According to Peter Sellars, "What opera can do to history is deepen it and move into its more subtle, nuanced, and mysterious corners" (see Met website). The following two videos are from the original 1987 performance in Houston, Texas.

Nixon in China was performed at the Chicago Opera Theatre in 2006:

Links & additional information:
Anthony Tommasini, "President and Opera, on Unexpected Stages," review of Nixon in China at the MET, New York Times (February 3, 2011).
"Reading Nixon in China," Nixon in China blog, with links to musical samples on (Vancouver Opera, 2010).
Matthew Gurewitsch, "Still Resonating from the Great Wall," New York Times (January 30, 2011).
"History in the Making" Metropolitan Opera website (2011).
Florence Fabricant, "Nixon in China, the Dinner, Is Recreated," New York Times (January 25, 2011).
Jason Farago, "Nixon in China in New York," n+1 (February 17, 2011).
Alex Ross, "Reverberations: A Month of Music and Politics," New Yorker (March 14, 2011).

May 20, 2011, Mathieu Duplay will speak about "L'imperceptible dans Nixon in China de John Adams et Alice Goodman," (Seminaire "Littérature et Métaphysique," ENS, Paris, 18h30).