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Nixon in China final dress notes

February 1, 2011

(don’t you love my creative title?!)

A few thoughts on the dress rehearsal, since I’d be silly to give a full review to a rehearsal.  Also, I avoided mentioning the singers because many didn’t sing at full volume, so it was clearly not a fair judge.

  • The Met invited a lot of schools to see this, which I thought was awesome, but my friend Amanda thought was a bit suspect.  Granted, it is a bit long, but I think kids would buy into this opera visually, and any student that’s made it through US II in social studies could appreciate the story.  I also think this was a really cool event, and everyone who was there seemed to be into it.  Some folks seemed to be old veterans of these concerts, with some epic packed lunches.  There were more empty seats than I’d expect though.
  • I should have known it would be really good, so good I’d want to go again, before I couldn’t get seats I could afford.  Even still, I’m hoping to go February 12th, at 1pm, for standing room tickets.  I can stand that long, right?
  • I love how this opera is essentially anti-dramatic.  It’s about hopes unfulfilled and failure.  Its about a historical event that was basically a non event.  Think about the most ‘operatic’ moments in Nixon’s life that one could set an opera to, or all of the moments in Mao’s or Madame Mao’s lives that could be the set up for an opera of Otello proportions.  Nixon visiting China for some speeches and a dinner is not on that list.  This libretto, which might be my favorite of all Adams’ operas, really focuses on these famous people as human beings, and I find that enthralling
  • The second act really makes this opera.  The first scene, featuring Pat Nixon is really compelling, and shows how Pat Nixon has some serious Peasant Cred, which touches on the Cultural Revolution without really ever saying it.  Also great was the minimalist sets that almost suggested the trip was surreal, with a factory, a farm, and a school appearing and disappearing, ending the scene with Pat by herself on the stage.  The second scene, being the most exciting moments of the opera, had some great choreography and detail in staging.
  • The beginning also had some great staging, such as the different body language Pat Nixon and Madame Mao expressed towards each other.  Its a really great open to the opera, even if I started to fear that it would be a lot of standing around in patterns, like I heard Doctor Atomic’s staging had.
  • I could see Adams’ ictus from near the top of the Family Circle.  That’s pretty impressive.  A lot of his conducting was just getting the orchestra through the music and letting the singers know when to come in.  I totally wish I could rock a plaid shirt like he can.
  • The Orchestra played all right… not together 100% of the time, but its not easy music, and they shined when it counted.
  • The second scene in the first act is a really complex and fascinating scene on paper, but I didn’t feel it translated very well in the performance.  Some of Mao’s attendants were given direction to make hand motions that made them look more like 70’s dancers than aids to the great leader of China.  Its also possible my seats detracted from this, but I had a hard time picking out who was saying what lines during the ‘cross-talk’ of the scene.  I wish the super-titles indicated the names of people delivering lines during these moments.
  • Ditto the end of the opera, though it was a little easier to figure out here.  Also, you have to love the libretto here.  You get so many details about Nixon and Mao, and the parallels between their lives as veterans.
  • Both the 2nd and 3rd scenes (the end of the first act) started to feel a little long to me, but the dinner set was simply magnificent.  I wonder if my issues with these scenes relate to my biggest musical problem of the opera: I perceive the music to go at the same tempo for the entire 3 hours.  I’m sure there are tempo changes (beyond the metric modulations between 2 and 3 and back again), but everything is very medium.
  • Odd tidbit – there was an extra bed on stage for the Third Act.  Perhaps for Kissinger, who exits at the beginning of the scene?  There was also an extra chair at the Play during the 2nd Act’s 2nd scene.
  • Amanda was also not too into the dancing, but thought the choreography was great.  I wouldn’t know if I saw bad dancing unless people were falling all over the place, and I did think the lead dancer who walked around on her toes like a crab walks around was really awesome.
  • I wish they had used a real pig.  And a real plane.  But mostly a real pig.
  • If you have an opportunity, you’d be an idiot to not go see this in the next few weeks.
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