Opera Scotland

Nixon in China

Music
John Adams (born Worcester, Massachusetts, 15 February 1947)

Text
Alice Goodman.

Source
Original.

Premieres
First performance: Houston (Brown Theater, Wortham Center), 22 October 1987.
First UK performance: Edinburgh (Playhouse Theatre), 1 September 1988.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Background
John Adams is one of the leading members of the school of composers widely described as minimalist, the earlier exponents of which include Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Nixon in China is an unusual opera by any standards, given that its subject matter is a historically important event from only fifteen years earlier, with some of the characters still being alive at the time of the premiere. From the start the project was a collaboration led by stage director Peter Sellars, who introduced the idea to composer and librettist, as well as the choreographer Mark Morris. This helped to give the piece a sense of cohesion. The opera was an instant popular success, and has been performed widely since then, generally in a replica of the original staging.

Main Characters
Chou En-lai (baritone)
Richard Nixon (baritone)
Henry Kissinger (baritone)
Nancy T’ang, First Secretary to Mao (mezzo-soprano)
Mao Tse-tung (tenor)
Pat Nixon (soprano)
Chiang Ch’ing (Madame Mao Tse-tung) (soprano)
Hung Ch’iang-ch’ing, party representative (silent)
Wu Ching-hua (dancer)

Plot Summary
Peking, February 1972. The opera deals with the historically significant first visit by a President of the USA to communist China. The treatment is generally lighthearted, almost satirical in effect. Chou En-lai and his guards await the arrival of Air Force One. When it lands at Peking airport, Nixon and his entourage are aware both of the strangeness of this new environment, and that fact that the world is watching. Later, when they meet Mao, they find it difficult to penetrate his inscrutability. The formal banquet shows both sides unable to get beyond basic platitudes. The next day is spent by Pat Nixon in various sightseeing visits, during which she reflects on her role in events. In the evening the party attends a revolutionary ballet, The Red Detachment of Women, and find themselves being drawn into the action. By the last evening, all the participants are exhausted, but able to reflect on their individual view of events.

The Cast

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