Adams: Nixon in China

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LABELS: Nonesuch
ALBUM TITLE: Adams: Nixon in China
WORKS: Nixon in China
PERFORMER: Kathleen Kim, Janis Kelly (sopranos), Ginger Costa-Jackson, Teresa S Herold, Tamara Mumford (mezzo-sopranos), Robert Brunbaker (tenor), James Maddalena, Russell Braun (baritones), Richard Paul Fink (bass-baritone); The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet/John Adams; dir. Peter Sellers (New York, 2011)
CATALOGUE NO: 7559796088


Broadcast live from New York’s Metropolitan Opera on 12 February, 2011, this production marks an important moment in the performance history of Nixon in China, the first collaboration between composer John Adams, librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars. Premiered in Houston in 1987, Nixon had enjoyed a kind of cult fame in its first decade. Cue the new millennium and a second wave of international productions. Suddenly, this bravura spin on an old art-form was the one opera from the last quarter century that everyone agreed to be ‘great’. Even, belatedly, the Met.

When the Spirit of ’76 aeroplane touches down in Act I, it is met with applause onstage and off. Sellars is here in charge of the cameras too, and explores the faces of his chorus in solemn close-up. The orchestra glows under Adams’s baton from the enigmatic arpeggios of Act I (‘The people are the heroes’) to the brittle snap of the brindisi (drinking song) and Act II ballet and the boozy gloss of saxophone and cocktail piano in Act III. Though vocally strained, James Maddalena brings baffled tenderness to the title role. Janis Kelly is a superb Pat Nixon, Russell Braun a noble Chou En-lai. Robert Brubaker’s Mao is tetchy, while Kathleen Kim is an incendiary Madame Mao and Richard Paul Fink an oily Kissinger. The trio of secretaries (Ginger Costa-Jackson, Tamara Mumford, Teresa S Herold) is handsomely blended. As presenter Thomas Hampson remarks to choregrapher Mark Morris backstage, ‘It’s a masterpiece now’. Morris tartly snaps back, ‘Oh, it always was!’


Anna Picard