58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best new opera of the last fifty years
There just hasn't been an opera of this intelligence or this sophistication written anywhere in the last half-century. Adams and Goodman make a thrilling and effective equation between what opera and political summits both do in their different ways: make the quotidian seem "larger than life" (to quote Nixon from his opening aria).
There's much to say about...
Published on October 5, 2000 by Jay Dickson
42 of 61 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great Work, terrible conduction
Painful to say it, but this is a terrible recording of what is probably the best opera written in the last century, Strauss excepted. Madelena's News aria is the quintessential aria of the 20th century and I am glad we have this recording, but a new one is sorrly needed. The problem here is that Edo's conducting is simply sloppy, the playing out of balance and limp...
Published on November 30, 2001 by don'tfuhgitup
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58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best new opera of the last fifty years,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)There just hasn't been an opera of this intelligence or this sophistication written anywhere in the last half-century. Adams and Goodman make a thrilling and effective equation between what opera and political summits both do in their different ways: make the quotidian seem "larger than life" (to quote Nixon from his opening aria).
There's much to say about the technical sophistication of the work: the dense and rewarding allusiveness of Goodman's beautiful libretto, for example, or the wonderful ways in which Adams uses the repetitiveness of the minimalist mode for psychological purposes (such as Nixon's nervousness, Pat's near-hysteria, and Madame Mao's violent dogmatism). This production is quite fine, and enjoys a definitive Nixon in the person of James Maddalena, who makes the character by turns triumphant, clumsy, paranoid, tender, and poignant--just as we remember the real Richard Nixon. There are few more beautifully pillowy baritones than Sanford Sylvan, and he found the part of his career in Chou En-lai, the subtle and valiant Chinese premier: Chou's splendid first-act aria "Ladies and Gentlemen, Comrades and Friends" is the emotional heart of the opera, and Sylvan does it full justice. Carolann Page is a moving and heroic Pat Nixon, and does a superlative job with Pat's big scene in the second act (the most enigmatic but also touching part of the entire opera--in part because it moves towards the margins of the masculine political world elsewhere portrayed).
Of the leads, John Duykers and Trudy Ellen Craney fare perhaps less well than the others. Craney's tessitura is not entirely pleasant, yet nonetheless her spikiness well suits the part of the fiercely doctrinaire Chiang Ch'ing quite well. Duykers does seems out of his league somewhat as Mao T'se-tung--the role should be sung without effort and with great beauty of tone (to show that Mao's body may be failing him but his mind and spirit are as strong as ever), but Duykers is not the heldentenor of one's dreams. Still, this is--all in all-- a superb recording of a superb opera.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dont miss this recording,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)When i went to see the recent English National Opera production of Nixon in China I went with a sense of mild curiosity and an expectation that i would be completely bored stupid by about halfway through the first act. Instead i left gushing with excitement and rushed out to get hold of a copy as soon as possible. For those of you unfamiliar with Adams, he differs a bit from other minimalists in that he is actually just an old fashioned romantic with modern trappings. Hence lots of tunes, lush harmonies and mainly tonal music. Even reminders of Richard Strauss. The minimalism serves just to make it all quite rhythmically driven. In this recording all the main parts are strongly cast. Even though Chairman Mao's wife is a little fluttery, she manages the high tessitura and awkward intervals of her showstealing act 2 aria with ease. Both of the Nixons feel at home in their parts.The Chinese premier phrases beautifully. The recording is well balanced and the performance solidly conducted, although occasionally a little more drive might have been in order. Overall this is an excellent recording of an opera that is infrequently performed and unjustly neglected. Listen to the seamless progression of big tunes during the act 2 ballet and you will be a convert to the cause.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important American Heroic Opera,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)Nixon in China is a Heroic opera that has not lost its edge and beauty in the years since it was written. The music and words are finely crafted and bring out many of the emotions of wonder, hope, and self-doubt that one can imagine the Nixons, the Chinese, and the Americans went through during the historic visit to China. The music has a minimalist bent to it, but it is so much more than that. The Opera is lyrical, tuneful, and quite memorable. The singing is near perfect and well balanced between soloists. Librettist Alice Goodman created a wonderful text that is rich with poetry and imagery and simply inpired in parts. Chou En-lai's scenes (Ladies And Gentlemen, Comrades And Friends & I Am Old And I Cannot Sleep) contain music of supreme beauty and reflection. There are great arias by Nixon (Richard and Pat), Mao Tse-Tung, and Henry Kissinger that also deserve mention (but for brevity. The only thing sadly missing is the staging, which served well to heighten the work. The music and text is still fresh and current. I highly recommend what will eventually be recognized as one of the great operas of the 20th century.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabu,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)I understand why opera lovers would call this minimalist. In the context of opera as a whole it is minimal, thankfully if you ask me. However, viewed in relation to modern music it is very full and sonically beautiful. Compared to Beeson's "Lizzie Borden" etc. "Nixon in China" is an homage to classic opera.
The libretto is stunningly brilliant. It gets enough attention so I won't add anything here.
The music is lyrical and addictive. You will find yourself whistling, humming or just full out singing it outloud while walking down the street. The first time you listen to it you will be completely hooked from the very beginning and be in full on gush mode by the end of Nixon's "News" aria at the end of the very first scene.
I won't mention this recording too much. Could it be better? Yes. I am simply desperate for a DVD version like the other Adams operas "el Nino" and "Death of Klingenhoffer." But US residents shouldn't complain since I paid double the price here in the Netherlands.
In the end "Nixon in China" basically uses every trick in the opera bag. It will definitely be an opera that lasts. Ten years after I heard it for the first time it is just as crisp and addictive as before.
Lastly. On a complete side note. I've heard excerpts of "Nixon in China" in the "Civilizations IV" computer game as the background music to the modern era.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Major Operatic Addition,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)This is the opera that changed 20th century opera, among other things, making operatic characters out of Nixon and Mao. It is extremely well-crafted and appears to be the high water mark of the compositions of John Adams. It certainly deserves a place in any music library that calls itself significant.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic libretto explaining a great historical moment,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)I love the opera, although the beginning is more lyrical than the end.
When Nixon arrived in Beijing, he did not even know if he would meet Mao. Then, when the Spirit of 76 sets down and Chou meets him, Nixon's excitement over his presence on the stage of world history takes over. He explodes into song: "It's primetime in the USA. It's yesterday night. It's yesterday night." At his hotel, worry returns. Nixon's paranoid self takes over; no one appreciates what he does. But then, Mao calls. Right on his arrival he is to meet Mao.
Mao and Nixon hit it off. Nixon wants to talk politics; Mao prefers philosophy. Each anticipates the moves of the other. They praise each other's books. Mao gets blunt. China is sick of poverty. He "wants to hear the sound of industry blown on the wind." Dams, textile factories, construction cranes. Sometimes, Mao says, the left-wingers are fascist. The gang of four, you mean? says Nixon. No. Mao is speaking generally; he just likes right-wingers. Mao's song, oddly predicting world history after the opera is written, is entitled "Founders Come First, Then Profiteers."
Then Nixon and Chou meet at the Great Hall of the People for the banquet. Chou begins his toast, one of the more lyrical moments of the opera. "From Vision to Inheritance" -- the legacy of the Maoists! We have united the land and brought peace to our land, and we are at peace with the world. Now, we wish to join hands with the Americans and build a rich powerful China. Then the drinking begins! An ecstasis! This drinking song is better than the ones in Wozzeck or Carmina Burana.
And that is just Act 1.
Act 2 brings us modern housewife Pat Nixon and flamboyent Chiang Ching. Mrs. Nixon is taken by the Chinese peasantry. She gets to see the pigs. She reminisces about her farm life. She sees rural China as a beautiful place for a picnic. She understands that this is the beginning of peace, that the trip is a massive success. Chiang Ching stages her competing Red Ballet. The martial music from the overture returns. Is the play history or reality?
Finally, Act 3 brings us 'the morning after.' History is finished with our men and women leaders of America and China. They are passing from the world stage. They have lived for that moment. Romantic moments there have been -- cooking burgers for pilots in the South Pacific, life in the Yenan caves, making it in a Washington apartment on a military paycheck, the Long March, being strafed by a zero in the midst of a rain storm, making revolution.
With Nixon in China, you get great music, great biography and great history. Our entire present era of world prosperity is a result of the events surrounding Nixon's visit to China, opening up the Generation of Peace about which he spoke. Mao's vision of a modern China, where Confucious is dead and where the sounds of industry are borne on the winds. has come true.
An mythmaking moment turned in to Great Opera, with a killer academic, well-researched libretto. A world-uniting opera with Chiang Ching's 'opera within an opera.' (And give that third act some time to grow on you.)
Great art work on the jewel box.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm not an opera fan in general, or a fan of "Philip Glass-type" music in general...,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)I'm not an opera fan in general, or a fan of "Philip Glass-type" music in general, but "Nixon In China" by John Adams became one of my favorite pieces of music ever (I'm 75). It delights me with not just the music, but the words which are sometimes serious and other times ridiculously funny. By the way I AM a fan (and owner of CDs of) Philip Glass's "Akhnaten."
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Composer John Adams revisited,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)The recent production of John Adam's newest opera "Dr. Aromic", about personal events leading up to the Trinity Bomb Test at Los Alamos, has generated interest in an earlier opera, "Nixon in China", which had been staged in Huston decades ago. "Dr. Atomic" has been staged in San Francisco, Amsterdam and most recently by the Metropolitan Opera in New York. "Dr. Atomic", has been telecast in HD into movie houses.
The CD audio album of "Nixon in China" shows how much John Adams has evolved from his "minialist" roots of those earlier years. The album includes a libretto. (It always amazes me that English text is somtimes not provided for English language opera, as if the listener can capture every singing syllable.) The music is accessible to general audiences, who might think modern serious music is unapproachable. This is not Arnold Schoenberg. For the curious this may be a useful introduction to "new" opera, which is neither bewildering nor elitist.
I have fond memories of the PBS telecast of "Nixon in China". One can relive the experience through this CD album, as I did.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite performance of my favorite opera,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)What's not to love about this spectacular opera? The libretto is deeply philosophical and yet it miraculously avoids pretentiousness. John Adams does a wonderful job setting text. One can understand every word (at least, those said by male characters)! He is quite sensitive to the text, and seems to capture it's essence perfectly. And the music never overstays it's welcome, unlike what other people may lead you to believe. I mean, there are no places where the music seems to wander aimlessly, it always has it's purpose. And other than the opening, there is very little overall repetition of a single line over and over; though even there, if you know you don't like that at all, why on earth are you listening to the music of John Adams, a purported (according to Wikipedia, not me. I actually think he's moved well beyond this.) MINIMALIST, as opposed to something by Boulez or the like? Let's not even go there.
Regarding the interpretation, James Maddalena does a spectacular job as Nixon, outclassing Robert Orth in timbre of voice and most other respects. For instance, during his News Aria, while Robert Orth seems to speed ahead of the orchestra in many places, Maddalena just stays right on top of the beat, right with the orchestra. Other than that, this recording compliments Alsop's Naxos version nicely, and, if on a budget, you can get a used copy of this one or buy the Naxos new. Your choice. If this recording happens to leave out a somewhat less-than-kid-friendly line said by Chiang Ching in Act 3, all the better. In general, this recording sounds as good through headphones as it does through a stereo, while Alsop's doesn't really sound good through headphones due to Naxos' acoustics, but sounds better through a stereo. This recording comes with notes by Adams, Sellars, Goodman and Steinberg, and I especially liked Adams' entitled "Nixon in China: An Opera for Communists and Republicans". The Naxos one does not. I can't vouch for the old edition of this recording, I'm afraid.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enlightening,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon in China (Audio CD)Adams' "Nixon In China" does what real art is supposed to do: it focuses attention on matters and details we'd overlooked and refines our maps of reality. The portrayal of the Nixons comes across as poignant and surprisingly plausible. The libretto takes skillful advantage of the impressions we'd previously formed of the pair through the press. And the music is of course alternately adrenal and hypnotic.
Gray Temple (the Rev. Canon)
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