Nixon In China

A CD Review From BBC Music Online

It´s here, at last.

Wow! what an opening, exciting stuff, I find deep breathing usually helps...

As long as five years ago the internet was sprouting rumours that Marin Alsop would be recording Nixon in China. Now those of us who consider it among the most important operas of the 20th century finally have two recordings to argue between.

OK, ignoring for a second the mass of green vegetation that´s been sprouting from the back of my computer recently I note we are assuming here that more than one person considers it among the most important operas of the 20th century....

Nixon in China didn´t just see John Adams perfecting his distinctive Mahler-meets-minimalism idiom; it also yanked the art form into the mainstream by depicting familiar, living characters on the opera stage for the first time.

Nice alliteration there! By the way, according to my dictionary a related word for yank is jerk...

Edo de Waart´s recording of that original 1987 Houston Grand Opera production, made a year later with pretty much the same forces, has been the only available until now. Several new productions have been seen since, including that captured here, staged by Opera Colorado in June 2008.

Aaah... THAT original production!... not the original production.
Hang on, I´m confused, was it the one that was seen, or the one that was staged, or the one that was captured?

Marin Alsop might not topple de Waart off his default top-spot...

What is he, a high wire artist or something?

...but she does provide a strikingly different performance that forms a worthy counterpoint to his.

Marin-meets-'Mahler-meets-minimalism'-meritoriously, maybe?

First of all, the story is more vivid: generally superior diction means words are audible, as are on-stage happenings and audience reactions.

Actually to be picky, it´s volume that makes words audible, diction makes them intelligible. Either way I must agree that it certainly helps the plot.

Baritone Robert Orth makes a compelling Nixon. His voice has something of the West Wing about it, a natural American twang and gloss, with added expressive elasticity.

Natural twang, gloss, 'added expressive elasticity', what is this? a shampoo Ad?

Countering that is the equally authentic baritone of China-born Chen-Ye Yuan as Chou En-lai, cleanly and earnestly sung.

Let´s face it, you can usually rely on the Chinese to be clean and earnest.

The capturing of the chorus is often too distant, particularly in the 'Cheers' passage that ends the banquet scene.

'Cheers' to you too!

That´s a disappointment. But Alsop makes up for it with orchestral detail.

Ahh!, so the actual notes are audible too, jolly good...

Here you hear the machinery of Adams´s writing: bright, alert, lucid, occasionally thin, but brilliantly textured.

Marin-meets-Mahler-meets-minimalism-meets machinery, maybe?