Opera Scotland

Nixon in China 1988Houston Grand Opera

Read more about the opera Nixon in China

The 1988 Edinburgh International Festival contained two British premieres. These were the recent John Adams piece Nixon in China, imported from Houston, and a new opera by Mark-Anthony Turnage. Greek had been launched earlier in the summer at Munich. A staging of Offenbach's La Périchole was brought in from Germany, and there was a concert performance of Schoenberg's Erwartung.

This was the almost instant British premiere of the most fashionably interesting new opera of the last quarter of the twentieth century. The direction, in the hands of then little known Peter Sellars, with important dance elements under Mark Morris, was exceptionally effective. All the singers wore their roles like a skin, able to make most of the characters surprisingly sympathetic. Perhaps only the generally repellant Madame Mao remained thoroughly unlikeable.

And, unlike the previous American performances, Edinburgh actually heard the composer himself conduct. The augmented forces of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, with little rehearsal time, contributed an excellent performance, which no doubt reduced substantially the cost of importing the Houston company.

It still seems a fascinating piece, even if the subsequent deaths of most of the real characters inevitably now give it the air of an historical document. It will be interesting to see how and to what extent Nixon in China survives the coming decades – it reached the New York Met in 2010, but has not yet been performed in China, now a very different country!

Performance DatesNixon in China 1988

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Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

1 Sep, 19.30 3 Sep, 19.30 5 Sep, 19.30

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