BBC Symphony Orchestra

John Adams

John Adams

© Lambert Orkisl

  • In English

Past Dates

18:00 work introduction

With Nixon in China, American composer John Adams created one of the most successful operas of the 20th century. Following the opera’s first performance in 1987 in Houston, Texas, there have been numerous international productions, with the recording winning a Grammy. Nixon in China is an opera of its time, modern yet also combining elements of historical drama, reportage and documentary.

The plot concerns US president Richard Nixon’s 1972 state visit to the People’s Republic of China. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, this visit was seen as a step towards an alleviation of tensions. Nixon was the first US president ever to visit China. His meeting with Mao Tse-tung was a historical event, instrumentalised by both sides for their political self-staging in the media eye, and broadcast live on US television during prime time. But the two representatives of each their different systems failed to connect. Mao used the meeting to strengthen his position in relation to the Soviet Union, distracting Nixon’s attention from the Vietnam War.

John Adams views his opera, which arose in collaboration with librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars, as “part epic, part satire, part parody of political posturing, and part serious examination of historical, philosophical and even gender issues.” The work is saturated with the heroic cult associated with the historical event, in which the main figures’ personal fears, insecurities and banalities shine through. With Nixon in China, John Adams managed to deploy the techniques of minimal music to ultimate dramatic effect. Mao’s wife sings virtuosic coloratura passages, late-romantic tones resound, there are grand opera gestures, moments of light operetta tone-painting, elements of pop and swing, dance standards and agitprop staged as theatre within theatre.

Musikfest Berlin 2012 presents the long overdue first Berlin performance of Nixon in China in its concertante form. John Adams will take the conductor’s baton himself, fresh from performing at the Proms in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and a hand-picked ensemble of soloists.

John Adams [*1947]
Nixon in China
Opera in three acts [1985-1987]
concertante performance
Berlin premiere

Robert Orth baritone (Richard Nixon, President of USA)
Jessica Rivera soprano (Pat Nixon, his wife)
Gerald Finley baritone (Chou En-lai, Premier of the People’s Republic of China)
Alan Oke tenor (Mao Tse-tung, Chairman of the People’s Republic of China)
James Rutherford bass (Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s advisor)
Kathleen Kim soprano (Chiang Ch’ing, Mao’s wife)
Stephanie Marshall mezzo soprano (Nancy T’sang, first secretary to Mao)
Louise Poole mezzo soprano (second secretary to Mao)
Susan Platts alto (third secretary to Mao)

BBC Singers / Matthew Morley coach
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Mark Grey sound direction
Paul Curran stage director
Murray Hipkin assistant conductor
John Adams conductor

With the kind support of The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc.