Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nixon in China comes to the MET

I was very happy to find out this week that the opera Nixon in China is finally coming to The Metropolitan Opera. John Adams's first work for the lyric stage, last seen in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the late 1980s, will be presented by the MET in the original Peter Sellars production. This will happen during the 2010-2011 season.

I remember vividly when I went to see one of the sold-out performances of Nixon in China at BAM. It was an event! Everyone there knew that they were witnessing the birth of an important new opera, something rare for our times. I remember that in those days I was just getting interested in minimalism. I was no stranger to the music of Philip Glass, whose Einstein on the Beach had made its MET debut, for one performance on a Sunday, years earlier. I remember that at that time I found John Adams's score more symphonic, and filled with more details than any Glass score I had heard. Glass treated the entire orchestra as if it was one big repetitive instrument, while Adams's orchestration brilliantly showcased the different parts of the ensemble. I also remember that during the first intermission I caught sight of Philip Glass sitting down a few rows behind me. In my mind Glass had come in to get some pointers, perhaps steal a few musical ideas here and there from John Adams: I was so young at the time!

I find it interesting that Peter Gelb has decided to present Nixon in China in the original production devised by Peter Sellars, and thus patch things up with the director-librettist. Every John Adams opera has had Sellars in the role of collaborator, and it is good that he will be represented alongside the composer when Nixon in China makes its debut.

Of course, we all know that Gelb did not think much of Sellars's original conception of Doctor Atomic and thus had a new production mounted for that opera's MET debut last week. In many ways it was sad that Sellars's production did not grace the MET's stage. It had proven itself to be worthy in San Francisco as well as Chicago. Some critics even preferred it to Penny Woolcock's current production at the MET. Sellars was nowhere to be seen during the curtain-calls at the MET premiere even though he is the opera's librettist. Let us hope that the new production of Nixon in China buries the hatchet between the MET and Peter Sellars.

In the meanwhile, I can't wait for the 2010-2011 season to get here.

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