Music with Ease > 20th Century Opera > Nixon in China (by John Adams)
Nixon in China
(by John Adams)
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Opera in three acts.
Composed in 1985-87.
Premiere: 22 October 1987, Houston, Texas, U.S.A.; 1 September 1988, Edinburgh, U.K.
Libretto: Alice Goodman.
The Nixons disembark from Air Force One upon their arrival in China, 1972.
Photo: Ollie Atkins, White House.
President Richard Nixon -- together with his wife Pat and their entourage (including Dr Henry Kissinger) -- arrives in Peking (Beijing) airport at the beginning of his historic 1972 visit to the People's Republic of China. He is met at the airport by Chinese officials including Premier Chou En-Lai. Nixon goes to meet Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. Nixon tries to warm to Mao but the latter seems overly philosophical and "inscrutable". Later that evening Nixon and his entourage attend an official banquet at the Great Hall in their honor. The banquet succeeds in bringing both sides together.
Pat Nixon goes on a tour of Peking (Beijing). Later Pat and President Nixon, accompanied by Chairman and Madame Mao, attend a performance of the revolutionary ballet The Red Detachment of Women. The villain in the ballet is played (surprisingly) by Kissinger. Pat rushes onto the stage and attemps to intervene in the action. From the audience Madame Mao exhorts the ballet's heroine and then rushes onto the stage to deliver a revolutionary message.
It is the Nixons' final night in the Chinese capital. All of the opera's six main characters meditate on the events they have seen during the official American visit and what they mean for history and for themselves as individuals.
Study Notes on Nixon in China
The composer John Adam's moved beyond the minimalism of much contemporary opera (as seen, for example, in the operas of Philip Glass with their minimalist repetition) to give us in Nixon in China an opera with a strong narrative line, a somewhat Romantic lyricism, and characters who show emotion and poignancy.
This opera aslo containts music that matches the dramatic incidents of the narrative whether they be high tension and action or quiet reflection.
Nixon in China was the first opera that was written for audiences raised in the television era. Adams built this opera around an event from contemporary politics and history -- the opening of diplomatic relations between the capitalist United States and the communist People's Republic of China, and the associated historically momentous first official visit in 1972 by a U.S. President to China since the 1949 Communist revolution.
It was an event that was etched in the memories of even ordinary people in Western countries and in China and this modernism and relevance to the audience (in contrast to the often obscure events and stories that most operas have been based on) was matched by the strikingly contemporary operatic stage sets (for example, Act 1 begins with President Nixon's official aircraft, The Spirit of '76 (Airforce One), in the background).
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Author: David Paul Wagner
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