In 1983, the young maverick director Peter Sellars convinced composer John Adams to write on opera based on Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. “I realized that it was a perfect idea,” Adams says. “It was right to find our own mythology in our own contemporary history.” What could be more outsized, more operatic, than Air Force One touching down in Beijing for the first time? Since the Houston premiere in 1987, Nixon in China has become one of the most popular contemporary operas (Cincinnati Opera staged a brilliant production in 2007), and the Metropolitan Opera acknowledges this American classic with a live HD broadcast of its new production, directed by Sellars, with Adams conducting his wildly original score
This is not CNN opera — Adams and his librettist Alice Goodman focus as much on the characters’ private reflections as they do on public utterances. Baritone James Maddelena sings Nixon, a role he’s performed since the original production. Janice Kelly is the long-suffering Pat Nixon, while Kathleen Kim’s strident Madame Mao might steal the show. Mark Morris stages the memorable Red Detachment of Women ballet sequence. Nixon in China is by turns a fever dream and meditation on the past, and a disturbing reminder of how roles have reversed barely 40 years later. The performance screens at 1 p.m. Saturday at selected theaters.
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