Opera Scotland

John Adams's operas in Scotland

Posted 20 Feb 2020

Nixon in China was the first opera by John Adams, and received its first British performance in Edinburgh on 01 September 1988, less than a year after its premiere in Houston.  This was a hugely successful event at the Playhouse, with the Houston company repeating the staging by Peter Sellars.  Most of the singers were familiar with their roles from that occasion, with the Nixons played by James Maddalena and Carolann Page.   James Duykers played Mao Tse-Tung, Sanford Sylvan was Chou En-lai with Thomas Hammons as Henry Kissinger.   The only major change compared with the first run at Houston is that the opera was conducted in Edinburgh by the composer himself.

The second opera by Adams also had a libretto by Alice Goodman and featured an even more controversial subject.   The Death of Klinghoffer presented the recent (1985) hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean by a group of Palestinian campaigners.   During the resulting events, a wheelchair-bound American passenger, who was also Jewish, was among the hostages.  Eventually he went over the side and was drowned.

First performed in Brussels only two years after the event, the opera was again directed by Peter Sellars and widely seen to be biased in favour of the Palestinians.   It has rarely been performed, but received a first Scottish production on 23 August 2005 at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.   Scottish Opera’s production was conducted by Edward Gardner and directed by Anthony Neilson.   Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer were played by Jonathan Summers and Catherine Wyn-Rogers.   Andrew Schroeder was the ship’s captain.

 I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky is a chamber piece,  with a number of musical styles, including jazz, pop, rock and soul.   This was seen at the Edinburgh Lyceum on 14 August 1995 as part of the Festival. This was only three months since its premiere – itself only a few months after the Los Angeles earthquake it describes.

 Two later operas, Doctor Atomic (2005) and Girls of the Golden West (2017) have yet to be seen in Scotland, though the first had a highly successful British premiere at ENO.

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