Nixon in China (opera)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Nixon in China (1987) is an opera with music by the American composer John Adams and a libretto by Alice Goodman. It is about the visit of United States President Richard M. Nixon to China in 1972, where he met with China's Chairman Mao Zedong and other Chinese officials.
The work was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Houston Grand Opera and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It premiered at the Houston Grand Opera, October 22, 1987 in a production by Peter Sellars with choreography by Mark Morris.
The opera focuses on six key personalities: Nixon and his wife Pat; Jiang Qing (spelled "Chiang Ch'ing" in the libretto) and Chairman Mao ("Mao Tse-tung"); and the two close advisors to the two parties, Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai ("Chou En-lai"). It is composed of three acts. The first details the anticipation and arrival of the Nixon cortege and the first meeting and evening in China. The second act shifts focus to Pat Nixon, as she makes tours of rural China, including an encounter at a pig farm. The second scene includes a performance of a Communist propaganda play, in which first Pat Nixon, then her husband and then Jiang Qing, intercede in the performance. The last act chronicles the last night in China, in which the characters dance a foxtrot, their thoughts wandering to their own pasts.
Musically, the opera perhaps owes more influence to minimalism than any Asian styles. (John Adams adapted the foxtrot theme from the last act into a concert piece entitled "The Chairman Dances", published before the opera in 1985. In the intervening period, Adams switched publishers, hence the Foxtrot for Orchestra being published by G. Schirmer and the opera by Boosey & Hawkes.) The libretto, by contrast, was written completely in rhymed, metered couplets, reminiscent of poetic and theatrical styles native to China.