Saturday, September 22, 2012

Adams : Nixon in China

Alan Oke (Mao) and the amazing
Kathleen Kim (Madame Mao)
Like many people, I like almost exactly half of what John Adams has written. Still, that's a better average than with many contemporary composers. And it's also interesting to see what compositions have weathered well. Among these I would place Nixon in China. Alice Goodman's libretto manages to balance two perspectives creatively: the impersonal, global scale of the political action and the personal level of the characters who, though they are among the powerful elite of the world, are in the end just people. 
Pat Nixon's small-townness, Nixon's own nostalgia for the simpler days when he was a serviceman in the war, the ominous black presence of Kissinger, and – my own favourite – the weary solitude of Chou En Lai. 

Adams conducted the opera on the Proms this year, and this recording is from the BBC transmission. It takes a minute to settle down – be patient. But it rapidly becomes deeply involving. There really isn't a weak link in this performance, but I have to point out the contribution of Kathleen Kim, whose brilliant, terrifying performance as Madame Mao is the high point of the performance. 

You should read the synopsis of the opera. It will help, especially in the poignant, intimate Act III. 

5th of September, 2012
320KBS mp4 from BBC web stream, no re-encoding


Kathleen Kim soprano (Madame Mao)
Alan Oke tenor (Chairman Mao)
Gerald Finley bass-baritone (Chou En-Lai)
Robert Orth baritone (President Nixon)
Jessica Rivera soprano (Pat Nixon)
James Rutherford bass-baritone, New Generation Artist (Kissinger)
Stephanie Marshall mezzo-soprano (Secretary)
Louise Poole mezzo-soprano (Secretary)
Susan Platts mezzo-soprano (Secretary)
BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Orchestra
John Adams conductor
Paul Curran stage director

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