04_nixon_in-chinaJohn Adams - Nixon in China

Robert Orth; Maria Kanyova; Thomas Hammons; Marc Heller; Tracy Dahl; Chen-Ye Yuan; Opera Colorado Chorus; Colorado Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop

Naxos 8.669022-24

Watching modern operas become a part of the standard repertoire is like watching the children grow up. Some of the precocious ones (the ones by Philip Glass) sometimes become rather dull adults, others are still gawky teenagers (works by Corigliano), while others reach their full, stunning potential. The seminal work by Adams, Nixon in China, belongs to that last category.

Just over 25 years old, the opera has had numerous productions in North America and Europe, initially overshadowed by the premiere Peter Sellars production and sacrosanct casting of voices (Maddalena, Sylvan, and Craney). Its one and only recoding, an excellent rendition on Nonensuch Records with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s under Edo de Waart became the de-facto reference recording… But some 5 years ago, the tide started changing. When I saw in 2006 an early version of the current production, here recorded live in Denver, it was a fresh and fascinating experience. The excellent Naxos CD recording conveys this freshness and Alsop brilliantly reveals the lyrical, almost romantic side of Adams’ music. That lyricism, often buried under the trappings of minimalism, emerges victoriously.

Winnipegger Tracy Dahl is every director’s dream of Madame Mao, both vocally and visually, especially in her triumphant coloratura “I am the wife of Mao Tse-Tung”. Robert Orth brings us a strangely sympathetic, pre–“I am not a crook!”Nixon; just listen to his opening aria “News has a kind of mystery”. Overall, this is my first must-have recording of the new decade!

Robert Tomas

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