Category Archives: Opera

Nixon in China: The Opera

8232John Adams’ Nixon in China has attained the status of modern classic since its premiere in 1987, but the opera is not performed frequently and is still unfamiliar to many audiences. Nonetheless there is great curiosity about the piece, as I discovered when I began work on the Spotlight program; I think I’ve gotten more questions about this opera than any other I’ve documented.

In some respects it’s easiest to begin a discussion of Nixon in China by listing what it is not:

• It’s not a dry history lesson;
• It’s not a political rant;
• It’s neither a satire nor a farce;
• It’s not unmelodic or atonal;
• It’s not strictly “minimalist” (though it certainly has elements of that style).

So…what is it? I’m not an historian, political scientist, or musicologist (and I don’t play one on TV), but in the course of shooting rehearsals and talking to the cast & production staff I’ve made a few observations.

I was already somewhat familiar with the opera in its original incarnation as directed by Peter Sellars, but this production is a fresh conception (i.e., not a re-mount) directed by James Robinson. The music and dramatic intent are the same, of course, but the new staging has some interesting features of its own. The settings are less representational and more abstract, and very colorful (I joke that it “needs more red”). The media coverage surrounding the event plays a more prominent role. There’s increased emphasis on movement, both literal (the ballet, ritualized gestures) and figurative (from exuberance to reflection). Robinson and his cast have also worked to highlight the abundant humor in the libretto. And, the piece has an expansive, “mock heroic” tone that is, dare I say it, a lot of fun.

“Fun.” Now there’s a word you don’t often hear associated with opera, particularly modern opera, yet it’s a vital component of this one. Adams and librettist Alice Goodman brought a sense of playfulness to Nixon in China, and that was reflected in the rehearsals. Of course it helps to have a director, conductor, choreographer and cast who are confident and attuned to the demands & nuances of the piece, and San Diego Opera assembled such a group. The participants seemed to be genuinely enjoying their work; I think that comes across in the Spotlight footage, and hopefully it will prove contagious for the audience.

Back to my original question: What is Nixon in China? I could say that it’s a dramatic comedy (or a comic drama), or it’s a stage spectacle, or it’s a postmodern character study; or just say it’s an evening’s entertainment and leave it at that. But I’m not the authority here – watch UCSD-TV’s San Diego OperaTalk and San Diego Opera Spotlight, then attend San Diego Opera’s Nixon in China and cultivate your own impressions. It will be time well spent.

Submitted by John Menier, Arts and Music Producer

The Elixir of Love – San Diego OperaTalk!

In this episode of OperaTalk, Dr. Nicolas Reveles discusses Gaetano Donizetti’s comedic opera “The Elixir of Love” or “L’elisir d’amore,” in which a con artist convinces villagers that a bottle of wine is a love potion.

What better place to discus the powerful effects of wine than at a winery? Reveles visits the beautiful Hacienda de las Rosas Winery to illustrate just how enchanting wine can be.

Donizetti had written hit operas before, including “Anna Bolena,” an historic opera about one of King Henry the 8th’s wives. But Reveles says that none came close to the success of “The Elixir of Love.”

Donizetti was in the midst of writing four operas in one year when he was commissioned to write a new one for the Teatro Cane Bianco in Milan. He wrote “The Elixir of Love” in just six weeks and it gained such popularity, it was the most performed opera in Italy between 1838 and 1848.

Learn more about this classic opera in “The Elixir of Love-San Diego OperaTalk.”

Check out other programs in the San Diego OperaTalk series!

Lear on the 2nd Floor

Composer Anthony Davis presents a modern take on Shakespeare’s classic, King Lear.

Lear on the 2nd Floor tells the story of Nora Lear, a neuroscience researcher suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. As Nora loses her bearings and autonomy, she is increasingly at the mercy of her three quarreling daughters. In this version, Nora’s dead husband Mortimer is Shakespeare’s fool and her constant companion, as she wanders through a world where past and present blend and reality bends.

Davis’s music incorporates diverse styles and influences, ranging from classical opera to jazz to reggae. This performance by UC San Diego’s Kallisti Vocal Ensemble includes various music styles from classical opera to reggae, as well as a libretto by playwright Allan Havis.

Check out our other chamber music videos.

Indulge in ‘Aida’

Verdi’s evergreen favorite “Aida” returns to San Diego Opera this weekend in a production designed by fashion icon Zandra Rhodes.

Get a look behind the scenes as cast and crew prepare to mount the grandest of grand operas with UCSD-TV’s “Opera Spotlight,” premiering tonight (April 19) at 9pm. (The video will be available online April 22 at this link, where additional broadcast dates and times are also available.)

How about getting to know the production’s cast and creative team, including Ms. Rhodes? Just watch “Stars in the Salon,” featuring a lively panel discussion hosted by Nick Reveles.

Or perhaps you need a primer on the opera which many consider to be Verdi’s greatest work? If so, watch “OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles.”

Now how’s that for operatic indulgence?

Who’s Behind That ‘Murder in the Cathedral?’

This week, San Diego Opera is busy is preparing for a murder, set to take place Saturday night when their production of  Ildebrando Pizzetti’s “Murder in the Cathedral” takes the stage. Based upon the drama by American poet TS Eliot, the story revolves around the 1170 murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket by henchmen of King Henry II in Canterbury Cathedral.

In UCSD-TV’s presentation of “Stars in the Salon,” premiering tonight (Marchy 26) at 8pm and online now, host Nick Reveles joins the cast and artistic team behind the new San Diego Opera production to discuss the intricacies of this unjustly-negelected masterwork.

Then check out “OperaTalk!” where host Nick Reveles provides a guided historical tour of the work, including its basis in Eliot’s play, the development of musical themes, and Pizzetti’s melding of words and music for maximum dramatic effect.

Before you head to the theater to enjoy the show, make sure to tune in Friday, March 29 at 9pm for the premiere of UCSD-TV’s behind-the-scenes documentary, “Opera Spotlight.”

Want to catch up on San Diego Opera’s season so far? Check out our Opera video archive!