The Arts

Nixon in China

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Reviewed by Paula Citron

Nixon in China
Canadian Opera Company
Music by John Adams
Libretto by Alice Goodman
Conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado
Directed by James Robinson
Performed by Robert Orth, Maria Kanova, Adrian Thompson, Marisol Montalvo, Ch-Ye Yuan, Thomas Hammons with Lauren Segal, Rihab Chaleb and Megan Latham
Four Seasons Centre
Feb. 5 to 26, 2011

John Adams’ intriguing 1987 opera, Nixon in China, has great music, good direction, is very well conducted, fields a strong cast of singers, and is visually clever. The problem is Alice Goodman’s pretentious libretto.

American president Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China did herald in a new world order, but Goodman, in her libretto, has rendered this collision of titans to be endless bouts of philosophy in the first act, and arcane reverie about the past in the second act.

Adams writes in minimalist style, but manages to define key moments with powerful orchestral outpourings. In fact, at times the orchestra under able Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado threatens to overwhelm the singers.

Allen Moyer’s red-drenched stage design contains banks of television sets as befits an historic moment as viewed by a world audience. Seán Curran’s choreography for The Red Detachment of Women is a perfect jab at China’s politically correct art forms.

Nixon in China continues at the Four Seasons Centre until Feb. 26.

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