Nixon in Stockholm an Aural and Visual Spectacular

10/10/2016

John Adams, Nixon in China: Soloists, Dancers, Royal Swedish Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Lawrence Renes (conductor). Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm, 1.10.2016 (premiere) (GF)

Hanna Husáhr as Pat Nixon and Ola Eliasson as Richard Nixon. Photo © Markus Gårder

Hanna Husáhr (Pat Nixon) and Ola Eliasson (Richard Nixon) © Markus Gårder

Cast:
Chou En-lai – Jeremy Carpenter
Richard Nixon – Ola Eliasson
Henry Kissinger – Olle Persson
Nancy Tang, Mao’s first secretary – Susann Eégh
Mao’s second secretary – Katarina Leoson
Mao’s third secretary – Kristina Martling
Mao Tse-tung – Michael Weinius
Pat Nixon – Hanna Husáhr
Chiang Ch’ing – Marianne Hellgren Staykov
Wu Ching-hua – Arina Trostyanetskaya
Hung Chang-ching – Sigge Modigh

Production:
Direction – Michael Cavanagh
Choreography – Arsen Mehrabyan
Set design – Erhard Rom
Costume design – Parvin Mirhady
Lighting design – Thorsten Dahn
Video: Sean Nieuwenhuis

It is indeed a remarkable work, this John Adams’ first excursion into the field of opera. Today it is more or less an historical opera, based on a real event almost 45 years ago. When it was premiered in Houston in 1987, however, most people had the actual occurrences in fresh memory and the three American protagonists were still alive (Kissinger is still among us, aged 93). The Chinese representatives passed away all three in 1976. How realistically the characters are depicted may be an uninteresting question, but the Nixon couple are given a very sympathetic image while Kissinger stands out as a buffoon. I wonder how he reacted if he ever saw the opera. But historical correctness apart Alice Goodman has written a masterly libretto with many facets and made something as dull as a political summit-meeting both interesting and entertaining. There isn’t a dull moment in the opera which with two intervals runs for three hours and fifteen minutes. And John Adams’ jazzily swinging minimalistic music hasn’t aged a minute. The motoric opening sequence with its patriotic chorus – this is grand opera in the best sense of the word – and its hypnotizing crescendo that reaches its climax with the landing of Spirit of ’76 is irresistible, the gradually more chaotic banquet in the Great Hall of the People with the Nixons finally jiving on a table is one of the heftiest party scenes in all opera. Pat Nixon’s long beautiful aria in act II is a lyrical high-spot, further enhanced by the ravishing singing of Hanna Husáhr, the ballet performance at the Peking Opera with phenomenal achievements by the dancers. These are just some grains of gold in this rich canvas of marvellous musical images.

The production, originally launched in Vancouver in 2010 and then seen in San Francisco and Dublin, is so closely integrated with the music and surprises with exquisitely chiselled details – just note the hundreds of individually modelled on the curtain between the acts, moving nervously when the interval is drawing near the end. The landing of Spirit of ’76 is breathtaking when suddenly the enormous Boeing 707 fills the whole width of the stage. Sometimes the realism – which is rather stylized anyway – gives way for dreamlike sequences. It is so admirably done.

And the backing-up from the pit is just as admirable. Lawrence Renes, chief-conductor since August 2012, knows Adams’ music inside-out and conducted the San Francisco performances of Nixon in China. He has done a terrific job with the Royal Orchestra, which awarded him a flourish – the first time I can remember hearing in an opera house. Well-deserved indeed! The chorus has a great deal to do in this opera and they did it powerfully and with finesse.

The cast of soloists could hardly be bettered either. I have already mentioned Hanna Husáhr’s excellently sung Pat Nixon and her visual approach is just as attractive. Ola Eliasson adds another great impersonation to his well-filled CV with a well-balanced portrait of the President, while Olle Persson – impossible to recognise behind Kissinger’s big horn-rimmed – is just enough over-the-top in this caricature of the Secretary of State.

The Chinese trio is also superb. Jeremy Carpenter, whom I previously saw six years ago as Gérard in Andrea Chenier, is a noble, philosophic Chou En-lai, Michael Weinius, a lifelike Mao Tse-tung, is brilliantly heroic in some outbursts from the tired and ageing chairman, and Marianne Hellgren Staykov as his dominant wife excels in stratospheric dramatic solos. Mao’s three secretaries – this opera’s equivalent to Ping, Pang and Pong in Turandot are utterly convincing.

An aural and visual spectacular that with some margin is my performance of the year!

Göran Forsling

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra at St John’s Smith Square’s 2017 Christmas Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Spitalfields Music Festival 2017 in December __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere of The Nutcracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu in December at Milton Court __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! I Musicanti’s ‘Alexandra and the Russians’ at St Johns Smith Square, 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • NEW! Carly Paoli is ‘Singing My Dreams’ at the Cadogan Hall in February 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • NEW! Twelve Years of Celebrating Malcolm Arnold in Northampton __________________________________
  • NEW! What is the Critic’s Job? A Review of A. O. Scott’s Recent Book __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival in Yorkshire Lifts the Lid Off an English Treasury __________________________________
  • NEW! A FULLY STAGED PILGRIM’S PROGRESS IN ORLEANS, MA __________________________________
  • NEW! JIŘÍ BĔLOHLÁVEK (1946-2017) AND THE CZECH CONDUCTING LEGACY __________________________________
  • NEW! JUSTIN DOYLE DISCUSSES MONTEVERDI WITH MARK BERRY __________________________________
  • NEW! Katie Lowe Wins the 2017 Elizabeth Connell Prize __________________________________
  • NEW! ITINÉRAIRE BAROQUE 2017: TON KOOPMAN TALKS TO COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House in Mumbai is Restored to its Former Glory __________________________________
  • NEW! iSING! – International Young Artists Festival in Suzhou, China __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H