Of all the operas in our mainstage 2010/2011 season, Nixon in China is probably the least familiar to the average opera-goer. It's only been performed once before in Canada (by Vancouver Opera) and its relative newness means that its foothold in the standard repertoire is still being carved out.
I find—and I'm sure many of you find as well—that the more familiar I am with a new opera's music and background before seeing it on stage, the more enjoyable a time I have in the theatre. Having some basic familiarity with the work helps me pick up more nuances in the performances and direction. And to help you get the most out of your Nixon in China experience, I've put together a list of ways to prepare.
1. Listen to the 2008 Naxos recording of Nixon in China
The 2008 recording of Nixon in China by the Naxos label has garnered a lot of critical acclaim from such publications as Opera News, Gramophone, and BBC Music Magazine. And the recording can also give you a very specific kind of preview: most of the principal singers featured in the recording will be reprising their roles on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre. Sample the voices of Robert Orth, who plays Richard Nixon; Maria Kanyova, who plays Pat Nixon; Chen-Ye Yuan, who plays Chou En-Lai; and Thomas Hammons, who plays Henry Kissinger, to get a preview of the calibre of singing you'll be hearing.
If you're a Toronto Public Library member, you can listen to the entire recording through their access to the online Naxos Music Library. We also have it available for order at our opera shop.
2. Search for "Nixon in China" on YouTube
I've talked in a previous post about the wealth of information available on YouTube about John Adams, Nixon in China, and Nixon's historic visit. There's a lot out there, including interviews with John Adams, clips from other productions of the opera, and historic footage. Watch and listen.
3. Listen to our podcasts
We have two introductory podcasts about Nixon in China on the Podcasts section of our website. You'll hear a discussion of the music's relationship to the minimalist music, information about the history of the opera, and excerpts from the opera itself.
4. Get a copy of Margaret MacMillan's book, Nixon in China: The Week that Changed the World
Margaret MacMillan might be familiar to you as the bestselling author of Paris, 1919, the award-winning account of the immediate aftermath of the First World War. She followed up this accomplishment in 2007 with a fascinating account of "the week that changed the world." The New York Times in its review praises MacMillan's eye for detail: "Her portrayals of key personalities throughout, as one might expect from the author of Paris 1919, are superb . . . MacMillan has a keen eye, as well, for the cultural bewilderment that accompanied the convergence of Sino-American interests." Find a copy and dig in—you won't be the only opera-goer doing so this winter. We will be reading MacMillan's Nixon in China for the winter instalment of the COC Book Club. More details to come soon!
5. See The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army at the Royal Ontario Museum
China's famous Terracotta Army has occupied the Royal Ontario Museum since this summer, and is giving Canadians a glimpse of the famous life-sized figures buried with China's first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi. Representations of the terracotta soldiers appear in our Nixon in China production.
The presence of these figures might be considered somewhat anachronistic, since the terracotta army wasn't unearthed until 1974, two years after Nixon's visit. But their presence is meant to remind us of two intertwining histories: the events of 1972 that are depicted in the opera, and the rich, vast history of China itself from which they spring. Seeing the terracotta warriors in the "flesh" will give their presence in the opera more resonance. You'd better hurry, though, because the ROM exhibit closes Jan. 2.
6. Come to Opera 101 on Jan. 19
The Nixon in China instalment of our popular Opera 101 series is taking place on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at the Drake Hotel. This will be your chance to hear Robert Orth, who has made Richard Nixon his signature role, give his perspective on what it means to play a character based on a familiar public figure. Have a drink, enjoy the banter, and participate in the Q&A. Feel free to bring friends and share the Facebook event!
7. Read our Study Guide
Our online Study Guides are primarily designed for educators who want to bring themselves and their student groups up to speed with the operas they're about to see. They're also an excellent resource for individuals! Our Nixon in China study guide includes a historical timeline of the events surrounding Nixon's visit, a biography of composer John Adams, a discussion of minimalism in music, an article on the intersection of opera and politics, and some notes on the production concept.
All photos © 2004 Ken Howard. Top photo: scene from St. Louis Opera Theater production of Nixon in China. Second photo: Maria Kanyova as Pat Nixon.
Posted by Cecily Carver / in 2010/2011 / comments (0) / permalink
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001