Archive for March 6th, 2011

John Adams’s ‘Nixon in China’ at Metropolitan Opera

by Sam Juliano

      Together with Phillip Glass, John Adams is a leading composer in what is referred to simply as minimalist opera, a style that developed from the modernism of the early twentieth century, where atonality found it’s way into the musical construction.

Historical and political figures that have fired up opera composers’ imaginations dates all the way back to Handel with Giulio Cesare, and included the likes of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Verdi’s Don Carlo, the latter in which King Phillip II of Spain is transformed a character of Shakespearean dimension.  Yet, an influential precedent was established when Nixon in China premiered at Houston’s Grand Opera almost a quarter-century ago when the opera did much more than just focus on an almost larger than life figure, but basically to present the history of our time as it was being self-consciously made.  In the beginning many were either befuddled or even outraged at the “preposterous” notion of creating an opera about Nixon’s historic China trip, especially after the notorious events that brought sudden closure to Nixon’s term in office, and of the general idea of politics providing the subject matter of an art form that by it’s very nature seemed to preclude such corrupting inclusion.  Yet, this pioneering work in retrospect, provided a remarkable aggregate of material and rich characters, and the very nature of the form, with its blend of artistic disciplines, proved uniquely well-suited to the structure underlying Nixon in China, as it modulates back and forth between grandly thrilling spectacle and introspective doubt.  Hence, it is easy enough to conclude that Adams and his librettist Alice Goodman helped usher in a rebirth of American opera over the past decades by suuccessfully balancing a contemporary sensibility with the musical and dramatic traditions of the genre. (more…)

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