“Nixon in China” returns to HGO

This is very cool.

It’s been three decades since the Houston Grand Opera presented John Adams’ “Nixon in China,” the company’s beloved world premiere that changed not only how modern political operas were viewed but signified an audacious move by HGO to put its stamp on the operatic world. 6 This Friday, “Nixon” returns to HGO for the first time since its initial run in October 1987. 6 For all the production’s nostalgic, celebratory sheen, “Nixon” still has resonance. Changes in the United States’ racial, political and artistic attitudes since that initial premiere mean that it remains a hotly relevant opera worthy of both consumption and debate. 6

And that it’s opening on the Inauguration Day of President-elect Donald Trump feels, if nothing else, like an interesting coincidence. The opera examines U.S.-China relations as China commands headlines and dominates Trump’s foreign policy rhetoric.

“Nixon in China” was the first modern opera to study an American president – and is being resurrected at a time when the U.S. grapples with what presidency means.

“The fact that (the opera) continues to be performed widely bears evidence of its continued relevance in contemporary society, as well as its quality,” writes Timothy A. Johnson in “John Adams’s Nixon in China: Musical Analysis, Historical and Political Perspectives.”


Adams says he doesn’t know how audiences interpret “Nixon” nowadays. More muted responses to the Nixon portrayal, he suggests, might simply indicate just how fiery politics – and discussions on race, China and the Republican Party – have become. Nixon, and how we feel about him, serves as a way to measure the current moment.

“If you look at what’s going on politically now, Nixon doesn’t seem so bad,” Adams says.

Lots of things from the past don’t seem so bad right now, but that’s a discussion for another time. I remember when “Nixon in China” premiered, and while I can’t claim to be a big opera patron, it sounded fascinating to me. I’ll get my chance to find out this time, as my wife and I have tickets for this production. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the politics of this going in. I’m still in a muddle of emotions and denial about everything that’s happening right now. Musically, though, I can’t wait. And how cool is it that it was the Houston Grand Opera that premiered this work? As I recall from back in the day, this was the first such premier in a long time. Have you seen a production of this before?

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2 Responses to “Nixon in China” returns to HGO

  1. dbcsez says:

    A friend invited me to yesterday’s matinee performance. Thumbs up bigtime. Not everyone will dig it, not even longtime fans of modern opera and minimalism. The story itself is rather thin. However, as a whole and in its many aspects, this show is a technical tour de force: the singers, dancers, orchestra, costuming, set design, and lighting all came together with breathtaking precision.

    HGO’s world premiere of this opera happened about 15 years after the Nixons made the first US presidential visit to China, before or after the Revolution. In 1987, that 15 years seemed like a long time, but now it has been 30 years now since the premiere. My friend assures me that if you saw it then and enjoyed it, you’ll likely enjoy this new production even more.

  2. dbcsez says:

    What do y’all think of the casting issues broached in the Chronicle by Wei-Huan Chen?

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