Monday, September 9, 2013

Post 1980 canon #6: New spectacle: John Adam's Nixon in China

Post 1980 canon #6: New spectacle - John Adam's opera Nixon in China (1987)

In the post WWII years most composers stopped writing operas, and the additions to the repertoire were few. For some reason this suddenly changed in the late 1980s. According to Paul Griffiths, the Metropolitan didn't premier a single new opera between the late 1960s and the late 1980s, but then suddenly they started commisioning new works on a regular basis. A similar history can be found in Houston Grand Opera, where Nixon in China was premiered. According to Wikipedia, the house opened in 1954 but didn't start premiering works before 1974. Until 1987 only 5 operas were premiered. But then suddenly the house start premiering one or two new operas every year! Texas were obviously a hot seat for opera in the 80s and 90s, staging the world premiere of Nixon in China in 1987, Phillips Glass' Planet 8 the following year, Meredith Monk's amazing Atlas in 1991 and several highlights from what can be called the new wave of grad opera. The productions were big and spectacular, but huge successes justified the costs. Themes were often based in contemporary politics or concerns, and here Nixon in China is a case in point, being based on Nixon's controversial 1972 visit to China. Nixon in China is also a brilliant example of the sustained influence of American minimalism.




The opening of the new Oslo opera house in 2008, with all its spectacular and gradiouse productions can be interpreted as a continuity of this trend. 


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