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The "Nixon" of Naxos - an artistic revelation,
This review is from: Adams: Nixon In China (Audio CD)
Just imagine - it is just little more than twenty years since John Adams premièred his opera Nixon in China. What a sensation it was then - politicians still alive were on the opera stage, caricatured, even cartooned, and all the same they were real persons taken from a history only seventeen years ago! And now a new fresh recording after the pioneering Nonesuch disc, establishing it as a classic, an opera to be put beside, let us say, Fidelio, A Masked Ball, Tosca, Madame Butterfly and War and Peace!
Yes, what a grandiose opera it is! Adams' minimalist music, more Glass-like than I remember it from the brilliant TV-performance, but much diversified, varying its tonal themes regularly and with an intensifying effect, enhancing them to sudden triumphs of dramatic expression. This is really an overwhelming new form of dramma in musica, a new creation functioning very well as advanced music theatre, a great artistic revelation.
And what a rich and sophisticated libretto Alice Goodman wrote, well worked-out, with unsuspected variations and sometimes such a high level of purport that you are grateful to have the whole text in front of you. Humor as in the first act, terror as in the second act, and a wonderful meditative ending with Chou En-Lai's resigned monologue.
And this recording, made by Opera Colorado, with musically and dramatically glorious singers and an expressive and perfectly disciplined chorus-and-orchestra under Marin Alsop, is a masterpiece that will, I am sure, be considered as the standard disc for a very long time to come. As for rendering modern American music, with all the typical American styles from folk music and musical to minimalism, from jazz to pop music, Marin Alsop is absolutely unsurpassed today, and she knows precisely how to mingle the perfectionism that minimalism demands with a warm humanism. And in all its disillusion and relativity, this is, believe it or not, an opera and a recording of humanist dignity and elevation.
So the "Nixon" of Naxos is not to be missed. It will be a good companion to return to many times, in order to discover incessantly new dimensions in that masterly piece of work by John Adams and Alice Goodman.
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Initial post: 2 Mar 2011 15:32:56 GMT
H. W. GOUGH-COOPER says:
"more Glass-like than I remember it" - I agree. I hadn't heard this opera before - but know and love a lot of Adams' other music, including more recent things like 'Doctor Atomic' - and the thing that most struck me about 'Nixon' was how far Adams has now traveled away from the Reich/Glass genre (neither of whose music I particularly enjoy) and his minimalist roots. But even in 'Nixon', the lyricism comes through; although I must say I occasionally have to mutter to myself about his (heavy) debt to Stravinsky (particularly the Symphony in 3 Movements, the first movement of which seems to be recalled in his works again and again: those stabbing piano chords) and in 'Nixon' a direct and very prominent quote from Richard Strauss!
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