‘Nixon in China,’ Air Force One land on stage 

The opera “Nixon in China” boasts wonderful historical and theatrical scenes and images: among them, “Chairman [Mao] Dances,” Richard M. Nixon arriving in Beijing aboard Air Force One, dwarfing the memory of “Miss Saigon’s” helicopter, and “The Red Detachment of Women” ballet choreographed by Mark Morris.

John Adams’ fascinating, groundbreaking work from 1987 is taking a quarter century to be seen in The City where it was born.

“Nixon in China” comes to San Francisco live on Saturday morning, both in radio broadcast and HD telecast from New York’s Metropolitan Opera, which is producing the work for the first time. The broadcast is scheduled on the new KDFC, 90.3 FM.

The production is being shown live in high-definition telecasts in two dozen movie theaters in and around The City, beginning at 10 a.m. as part of a nationwide series in which hundreds of radio stations and HD theaters  are participating.

The Berkeley composer’s opera was first seen at a workshop performance in Herbst Theatre long before a public production, and its San Francisco Opera premiere is scheduled not until June 8, 2012.

The opera’s world premiere was in Houston, when the opera company there was under the direction of current San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley.

The Met premiere is conducted by Adams, who points out that “Nixon” and all his other operas — such as “The Death of Klinghoffer” and “Doctor Atomic” — “have dealt on deep psychological levels with our American mythology. The 1972 meeting of Nixon and Mao is a mythological moment in world history, particularly American history.”

Longtime Adams collaborator Peter Sellars makes his Met debut with “Nixon,” which he has directed in numerous productions.

Baritone James Maddalena stars in the title role, which he created almost a quarter century ago and has sung many times since. Other key characters are Pat Nixon (Janis Kelly), Chairman Mao (Robert Brubaker), his wife Chiang Ch’ing (Kathleen Kim), Henry Kissinger (Richard Paul Fink), and Premier Chou En-lai). The Chinese names are spelled the pre-“Beijing” way in Alice Goodman’s libretto.

Early reviews of this unusual opera about recent events with minimalist music were sharply divided. Donal Henahan in The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Adams does for the arpeggio what McDonald’s did for the hamburger,” while in England, it was called “the most influential opera of the past 20 years,” pioneering the genre of “CNN opera.”


Nixon in China

Telecast live from the Metropolitan Opera

Where: Century 9, 835 Market St., and Cinearts Empire 3, 85 West Portal Ave., San Francisco and other Bay Area locations

When: 10 a.m. Feb. 12

$22 to $24

Contact: (415) 538-8422; www.fandango.com; www.fathomevents.com

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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