Weekend musing: On Nixon in China

While musing about China these days, and particularly about how they are handling policy and invement decisions involviing  transport, mobility and public space during this period of possible change of thinking at the highest policy levels there (See World Streets http://wp.me/psKUY-2Kb), I am listening this weekend once again, decades later, to the still surprising Nixon in China of John Adams. And wondering how my Chinese friends might react to this.

Nixon in China – The Myth of History

- Notes from the Metropolitan Opera production in New York City

In 1985, in the midst of the Reagan administration, three young artists—a composer, a poet, and a stage director—huddled together in a conference room of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, to sketch the first plans for what would become one of the most famous American operas.

The subject, Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China, was provocative, and it instantly caught the attention of the country’s cultural community. From its 1987 premiere in Houston, Nixon in China challenged long-held operatic conventions, bringing the forces of contemporary history and its political leaders to the mythic level of art. John Adams’s score, Alice Goodman’s libretto, and Peter Sellars’s staging, much of it based on contemporary television and newspaper imagery, together with Mark Morris’s choreography, produced a theatrical experience that was both entertaining and profoundly thought-provoking. Almost 25 years later, on the eve of Nixon’s Met premiere, Adams and Sellars reflect on their path-breaking work.

How did the idea for this opera first come to you?

Peter Sellars Working on Haydn’s Armida, trying to understand the Vietnam War, I got out the Kissinger memoirs and was rereading my Mao. In the middle of all of that, I thought, oh, there’s an opera waiting in there!

John Adams I’d recently done a film score for a documentary about Carl Jung and had been spending a lot of time with Wagner’s operas. I was thinking a lot about myth-making, and that put me very much in the mood to create my own opera, but I had no idea what the theme should be. Then I met Peter in 1983, and he proposed the idea and even the title for Nixon in China. My first response was pretty skeptical—Nixon was little more than a butt for late-night comedians by that time. But I eventually realized it was a perfect idea, and that it was right to find our mythology in our own contemporary history.

* For the full interview, click to http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/template.aspx?customid=14718

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