[Met Performance] CID:353801
Nixon in China {3} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/09/2011., Sirius XM Broadcast live


Metropolitan Opera House
February 9, 2011 Broadcast

John Adams-Alice Goodman

Richard Nixon...........James Maddalena
Pat Nixon...............Janis Kelly
Henry Kissinger.........Richard Paul Fink
Chou En-lai.............Russell Braun
Mao Tse-tung............Robert Brubaker
Chiang Ch'ing...........Kathleen Kim
Nancy T'ang.............Ginger Costa-Jackson
Second Secretary to Mao.Teresa S. Herold
Third Secretary to Mao..Tamara Mumford
Dancer..................Haruno Yamazaki
Dancer..................Kanji Segawa

Conductor...............John Adams

Production..............Peter Sellars
Set Designer............Adrianne Lobel
Costume Designer........Dunya Ramicova
Lighting Designer.......James F. Ingalls
Choreographer...........Mark Morris
Sound Designer..........Mark Grey

Broadcast live on Sirius XM Metropolitan Opera Radio

Production originally created by English National Opera

Review of Joshua Rosenblum in OPERA NEWS

John Adams's "Nixon in China" cemented its status as a modern classic with its arrival at the Met this season, twenty-four years after its world premiere at Houston Grand Opera. The Met managed to turn it into the cultural event of the season. Advance press coverage was ubiquitous - a gratifying state of affairs for longtime fans of this groundbreaking work.

The production itself is essentially a transplant of a version created in 2006 by director Peter Sellars for English National Opera, which in turn was Sellars's recreation of his own HGO original. The landing of the American president's plane on the stage is no big deal to anyone who has ever seen "Miss Saigon," but an unmistakable frisson of excitement still ran through the Met audience when the door opened and James Maddalena (Nixon) and Janis Kelly (Pat) stepped out, with Maddalena giving Nixon's trademark, slightly awkward wave (seen Feb. 9, the third performance of the run).

Maddalena, who created the role and has played it successfully several times since, inhabits Nixon thoroughly and effortlessly. His portrayal is three-dimensional and nuanced, comic but never caricatured. Maddalena's funniest moments came in his first scene with Mao Tse-tung, the wonderfully imperious Robert Brubaker). Mao enigmatically spouted the philosophical aphorisms of Alice Goodman's libretto. Sometimes he got so worked up he appeared to have a seizure and then pass out. We could see Maddalena's Nixon trying to decide whether it was polite to continue the conversation even when his partner was no longer conscious.

Though past his vocal prime, Maddalena managed to make his imperfections seem of a piece with his characterization of an historic, but deeply flawed, human being. Brubaker, for his part, was vibrant and timbrally distinctive in the high-lying role of Mao, expertly integrating physical frailty with vocal strength. As Chou En-lai, Mao's prime minister, Russell Braun gave a dignified, yet passionate, delivery of the speech m the assembled dignitaries in the last scene of Act I.

Kelly was a likable, vivacious Pat Nixon, with a winning smile and a soprano of natural soaring beauty. In her big Act II aria ("This is prophetic"), she provided clarion delivery of some of Adams's best vocal writing. Kelly let us see how excited Pat becomes at the flood of new ideas seizing her, and it was endearing.

Kathleen Kim's Madame Mao was a tiny terror, admirably knocking out her fiendishly high vocal lines without sounding shrill. Richard Paul Fink's Kissinger doubled as the gleefully malevolent villain Lao Szu in the ballet-within-an-opera, "The Red Detachment of Women," in Act II. (This is the name of an actual propaganda ballet the real Madame Mao commissioned during the Cultural Revolution, and it was, in fact, performed for the Nixons.) Mark Morris, who probably understands and responds to music better than any other living choreographer, recreated his own original work here. The original design team of Adrianne Lobel (sets). Dunya Ramicova (costumes) and James F. Ingalls (lights) also reprised their roles.

The chaotic ending of Act II, wherein all the principal characters are drawn into the action of the agitprop-heavy ballet, seemed to cause some bafflement for the Met audience. Several patrons didn't return after the intermission. A pity for them: the Act III denouement, in which the Maos and the Nixons reminisce in their respective chambers while Chou En-hi wonders if they've all accomplished anything, has some of the best music in the opera, including beautifully calibrated ensemble writing, jazzy, sweetly nostalgic dance music and some wonderful coloratura counterpoint for Madame Mao. A surprisingly frisky Mao even gets serviced by one of his female secretaries. For his part, Maddalena seemed to find vocal rejuvenation, while spouting Nixon's memories of his army days to a slightly bored Pat.

John Adams's presence in the pit was a news-making event in itself Adams, to be sure, is a proficient and experienced conductor, but it's not clear whether he was the best exponent for this work. In the places where the music needs to be driving and relentless, it was often leisurely and even flabby. Two of the great standout arias - Nixon's "News has a kind of mystery" and Madame Mao's "I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung" - suffered from lack of snap and tension in the orchestra. Adams just doesn't seem to be able to inspire the same rhythmic verve that his own music embodies so essentially. Still, who's going to begrudge the guy the opportunity to conduct his own Met premiere? Certainly not I.

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