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Adams: Nixon In China / Alsop, Orth, DeDominici, Colorado Symphony Orchestra


Release Date: 10/27/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8669022-24   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  John Adams
Performer:  Jennifer DeDominiciRobert OrthThomas HammonsJulie Simson,   ... 
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colorado Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

"She leads the score with grand sweep and understanding, and her Colorado forces bring out its colors vividly; moreover, she inspires her cast to sing as if they're having a great time with this no-longer-new but still odd opera."


Nonesuch's 1987 recording of this opera, produced when the work was new, was revelatory. Though clearly a piece of mimimalism, it did not rely only on endless repetition; indeed, Adams' musical language was varied enough to make Nixon in China a fascinating opera despite very little action and a somewhat unrevealing text by Alice Goodman. The Nixons and the events of the 1972 visit came across as oddly shallow. It's clear now that that was
Read more the point: Nixon's first-act rant, "News has a kind of mystery", is much the key to the opera.

It also seems wittier and more purposefully ironic now, with Kissinger's villainy almost overshadowed by his ladykilling; Pat Nixon's innocence almost charming (we've seen worse since); Madame Mao's berserk aria even more pointedly wacky and funny; and the contrast between Chou En-lai's philosophizing and Richard Nixon's simplemindedness clearer than ever. During the toasts in the third scene of the first act, Chou's toast, an eloquent paean to the future ("Our children race downhill unflustered into peace..."), is accompanied by even arpeggios; when Nixon's clichés take over ("a vote of thanks to one and all who made this possible"), we're jarred into paying attention to his mundanity by disconnected, disparate tones. It's masterly.

Each scene in the first act still strikes me as a few minutes too long, but Act 2, particularly with the spectacular and varied music for the surreal opera performance, is riveting. The frustrating last act is oblique in its dramatic thrust (it features personal reflections from all of the characters except, tellingly, Kissinger), but it is food for thought even if it is a dramatic anti-climax. It's a strange, quiet way to end an opera--but take it for what it is.

This new recording, taken from a live performance at Denver's Ellie Caulkins Opera House in June, 2008, is brilliant. It is sonically way ahead of the Nonesuch (which was recorded at a very low level), thus making it possible to understand almost every word, and Marin Alsop's tempos are slightly slower than Edo de Waart's, which also helps comprehension. She leads the score with grand sweep and understanding, and her Colorado forces bring out its colors vividly; moreover, she inspires her cast to sing as if they're having a great time with this no-longer-new but still odd opera.

Robert Orth's Nixon has just the right amount of self-parody that "playing" Nixon requires--the distance between 1987 and now is very long and we can sense ironies from our vantage point that we were blind to then. Maria Kanyova's Pat also seems more sympathetic while remaining as publicly simple as she always was, and Kanyova's voice and diction are splendid. Marc Heller handles Mao's high tessitura, sometimes bordering on madness, with great character and flavor. Chen-Ye Yuan's Chou is beautifully sung and he captures both the character's joylessness and intelligence. Thomas Hammons (also on the Nonesuch recording) uses his dark, growling bass to show us everything we need to know about the cynical Kissinger, and Tracy Dahl, as Madame Mao, is pretty frightening, even while delivering her Queen of the Night-like aria.

There's not much to decide between this set and the Nonesuch, which is still available. As mentioned, this new one is sonically superior (and cheaper), but otherwise it's pretty much a tie. Naxos, like Nonesuch, supplies a libretto; Nonesuch's booklet has superb essays and a better synopsis.

--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. Nixon in China by John Adams
Performer:  Jennifer DeDominici (Voice), Robert Orth (Voice), Thomas Hammons (Voice),
Julie Simson (Voice), Chen-Ye Yuan (Voice), Tracy Dahl (Voice),
Maria Kanyova (Voice), Mark Heller (Voice), Melissa Malde (Voice)
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colorado Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987; USA 

Sound Samples

Nixon in China: Act I Scene 1: Beginning
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 1: Soldiers of heaven hold the sky (Chorus)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 1: The people are the heroes now (Chorus)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 1: Landing of the Spirit of '76
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 1: Your flight was smooth, I hope? (Chou, Nixon)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 1: News has a kind of mystery (Nixon, Chou, Kissinger, Chorus)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 2: Beginning - I can't talk very well. My throat... (Mao, Nixon, Chou, Kissinger, 3 Secretaries)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 2: You know we'll meet with your confrere, the Democratic candidate (Mao, Nixon, Kissinger)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 2: You've said that there's a certain well-known tree (Chou, Nixon, Mao, Kissinger, 3 Secretaries)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 2: Founders come first, then profiteers (Mao, 3 Secretaries, Nixon, Chou, Kissinger)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 2: We no longer need Confucius (Mao, 3 Secretaries)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 2: Like the Ming Tombs (Nixon, 3 Secretaries, Mao, Chou)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 3: Beginning - The night is young (Nixon, Pat, Chou, Kissinger, Chorus)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 3: Ladies and Gentlemen, Comrades and Friends (Chou, Chorus, Pat, Kissinger)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 3: Mr. Premier, distinguished guests (Nixon, Chorus)
Nixon in China: Act I Scene 3: Cheers! (Chorus, Nixon, Chou, Pat, Kissinger)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 1: Beginning - I don't daydream and don't look back (Pat)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 1: Look down at the earth (Chorus, Pat, 3 Secretaries)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 1: This is prophetic! (Pat)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 1: At last the weather's warming up (Pat, Chorus)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 2: Beginning - Young as we are (3 Secretaries)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 2: O what a day I thought I'd die! (Kissinger as Lao Szu, Chorus as Ching-hua, 3 Secretaries, Pat)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 2: Whip her to death! (Kissinger as Lao Szu, Pat, Nixon)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 2: Tropical Storm: There there, there there (Pat)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 2: Flesh Rebels (Chorus as Militia)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 2: I have my brief (Kissinger as Lao Szu, Nixon)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 2: It seems so strange (Chorus as Ching-hua, Chiang Ch'ing, Pat, Nixon, 3 Secretaries)
Nixon in China: Act II Scene 2: I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung (Chiang Ch'ing, Chorus)

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 nice opera, boring recording May 15, 2012 By D. Mount (Chestnut Hill, MA) See All My Reviews "OMG, the emperess has no clothes. Buy Edo De Waart's recording, available on Nonesuch, and you'll understand and enjoy this opera." Report Abuse
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