Nixon in China is the only opera in our mainstage season composed by someone still living, and this leads to a lot of other "onlys:" He's also the only composer in our mainstage season with a twitter account (@HellTweet) and a blog. He has a Facebook page too, but then again, so does Mozart (although it's not quite the same thing).
I highly recommend reading his latest blog post, about casting the original production of Nixon in China. Here's an excerpt:
"The most punishing writing of all, that for Chairman Mao, required of the tenor John Duykers that he virtually reprogram his voice. Instead of composing reasonably modulated lines that allow the vocal musculature to periodically relax and recoup its strength, I gave him lines that started on a high wire and just mercilessly remained up in the stratosphere. I must have been thinking at the time that if Mao were going to be heard by a billion Chinese he would have to sing very loud and very high—all the time. Duykers 'created' the role in every sense of the word, finding ways to exploit not only the 'heroic' quality of his voice but also using his imposing stage presence to evoke a larger than life presence perfectly suited to the Mao of those classic posters and statues. He was indeed the model of the philosopher-dictator, the wily strategist who stumped the Americans while dallying with his young secretaries."
Of Thomas Hammons, who created the role of Henry Kissinger and will be singing it in our production, he writes:
"The bass buffo role of Henry Kissinger was sung with humor and gusto by Thomas Hammons. He has continued to sing it in the intervening years in various other productions around the country. In the Peter Sellars production Kissinger morphs into cartoon-like gangster in the second act ballet and has to be as nimble as a ballet dancer. Tom did the morphing with zeal. Kissinger has perhaps the most humiliating final exit of any role in the operatic repertoire. He doesn’t die in a duel, nor does he ride off into the sunset on a white steed. He simply asks where the toilet is and says 'Excuse me for one moment, please.'"
Go read the whole post! It's fascinating stuff.
Posted by Cecily Carver / in 2010/2011 / comments (0) / permalink
The winter edition of our book club is beginning soon, and for the second time this season we'll be reading a book with the same title as that of the opera it relates to. Margaret MacMillan's Nixon in China: The Week That Changed the World is an excellent way to get to know the story of what happened during that week in 1972 and understand what was at stake for Nixon, Mao, and the world.
How much of Alice Goodman's libretto is based in fact? Which of her lines were taken directly from statements by the real-life people who inspired the opera? How did Pat Nixon feel about the trip, and to what extent does the sadness her character expresses in the opera mirror the way she was actually feeling? Why was this trip important enough to be given the operatic treatment in the first place? If you're interested in Nixon in China as an opera, reading MacMillan's book along with us will deepen your understanding of it. Even better, Margaret MacMillan will be participating in the book club and answering your questions!
For my part, I dug partway into the book over the holidays. I hope you'll join us this January, both online and at the opera house!
Posted by Cecily Carver / in 2010/2011 / comments (2) / permalink
Rehearsals for our upcoming production of The Magic Flute began this week, and on Wednesday everyone at the COC was invited to attend the concept discussion. The discussion was led by set and costume designer Myung Hee Cho and associate director Andrew Eggert, and many of the set pieces and props were on display. In front of the stage-within-a-stage that we've seen in the maquettes, as well as some giant green hedges and candelabras that will also feature in the production, they talked us through their vision for Mozart's final opera.
The production will emphasize the opera's theatricality, and delight in references to the stagecraft of Mozart's era. Rather than employing modern technologically-driven special effects for things like storms, fire, and dancing animals, the creative team considered how 18th-century directors and designers would have represented them. Thunder sheets, painted roll drops that rise and fall with visible assistance from crew members, lighting by candlelight and mirrors—all these things will be in evidence.
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001