Nixon in China
Composer: John Adams
Composer Bio: One of America’s most admired and respected composers, John Adams is a musician of enormous range and technical command. His works, both operatic and symphonic, stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. Over the past 25 years, Adams’s music has played a decisive role in turning the tide of contemporary musical aesthetics away from academic modernism and toward a more expansive, expressive language, entirely characteristic of his New World surroundings.

Born and raised in New England, Adams learned the clarinet from his father and played in marching bands and community orchestras during his formative years. He began composing at age ten and heard his first orchestral pieces performed while still a teenager. The intellectual and artistic traditions of New England, including his studies at Harvard University and attendance at Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts, helped shape him as an artist and thinker. After earning two degrees from Harvard, he moved to Northern California in 1971 and has since lived in the San Francisco Bay area.

Adams taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for ten years before becoming composer-in-residence of the San Francisco Symphony (1982-85), and creator of the orchestra’s highly successful and controversial “New and Unusual Music” series. Several of Adams’s landmark orchestral works were written for and premiered by the San Francisco Symphony, including Harmonium (1980-81), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1984-85), and El Dorado (1991).

Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls, composed for the New York Philharmonic in 2002, to commemorate the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and the recording on Nonesuch won a rare “triple crown” of Grammy Awards: “Best Classical Recording”, “Best Orchestral Performance”, and “Best Classical Contemporary Composition”.

Harvard University has twice given Adams significant awards: in 2004 he received the Centennial Medal of the university’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences “for contributions to society,” and in 2007 he received the Harvard Arts Medal. He has received from Northwestern University both the 2004 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition (the first ever awarded) and in 2008 an honorary doctorate. Honored with a proclamation by governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California for his distinguished service to the arts in his adopted home state, he has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cambridge and an honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa.
Librettist: Alice Goodman
Other Artistic Personnel: Peter Sellars (Stage Director)
Mark Morris (Choreographer)
John DeMain (Conductor)
Adrienne Lobel (Set Designer)
Dunya Ramicova (Costume Designer)
Original Cast: Sanford Sylvan (Chou En-lai)
James Maddalena (Richard Nixon)
Thomas Hammons (Henry Kissinger)
Mari Opatz (Nancy T'ang, 1st secretary to Mao)
Stephanie Friedman (2nd secretary to Mao)
Marion Dry (3rd secretary to Mao)
John Duykers (Mao Tse-tung)
Carolann Page (Pat Nixon)
Trudy Ellen Craney (Chiang Ch'ing)
Steven Ochoa (Hung Ch'ang-Ch'ing)
Heather Toma (Wu Ching-hua)
Work Web Site:
Premiere Date: October 22, 1987
Producing Company: Houston Grand Opera
Description: It is February 1972, and Nixon arrives in Peking on The Spirit of '76 with his wife, Pat, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to begin their historic meeting with Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Premier Chou En-lai. Nixon establishes the priorities of his journey as symbolic and tied to public image back home, while the Chinese have a more philosophical view toward politics and history. The same evening, these philosophical disagreements are temporarily forgotten as the President and his entourage are treated to a lavish banquet.

While Act I is mostly about the men in the opera, Act II places a greater emphasis on the women of the story. Act II begins with Pat Nixon's tour of a commune and the Summer Palace. Later, everyone, including Mao's wife, Chiang Ch'ing, gathers together to watch a contemporary political Chinese ballet, The Red Detachment of Women. In the ballet, real events and fantasy merge together; the scene ends with Mao's wife presenting her views on the Chinese Revolution and her place in history.

In the last scene Kissinger, the Nixons, Chou En-lai, and Mao and his wife reminisce about events in their lives that have shaped them as individuals.
Character List (Major): Chou En-lai (bar)
Richard Nixon (bar)
Henry Kissinger (b-bar)
Nancy T'ang, First Secretary to Mao (mz)
Mao Tse-tung (t)
Pat Nixon (lyr s)
Chiang Ch'ing, Madame Mao Tse-tung (col sop)
Character List (Minor): Second Secretary to Mao(mz)
Third Secretary to Mao(mz)
Reviews: International Herald Tribune, David Stevens, 12-18-91; Art in America, Joan Acocella, 4-88; The New York Times, Will Crutchfield, 4-3-88; Harvard Magazine, Karen Monson, 1-88; The New York Times, Will Crutchfield, 12-15-87; The Globe and Mail, Robert Everett-Green, 12-10-87; The New York Times, John Rockwell, 12-10-87; The New York Times, John Rockwell, 12-6-87; The New Yorker, Andrew Porter, 11-30-87; The New York Times, Diane Solway, 11-29-87; The New Yorker, Andrew Porter, 11-14-87; Time, Michael Walsh, 11-9-87; New York, Peter G. Davis, 11-9-87; Ovation, Nancy Malitz, 10-87; The Wall Street Journal, Manuela Hoelterhoff, 10-29-87; The New York Times, Donal Henahan, 10-24-87; San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Commanday, 10-24-87.
Video Clip:
Length: 02:57
Total Acts: 3
Chorus: SATB Chorus
Orchestration: 2 fl(2 picc), 2 ob(Eng Hrn), 3 cl(Ebcl), 4 sax (s, 2a, bar), 3 tpt, 3 tbn - perc(BD, pedal BD, wdbl, susp cym, SD, sandpaper blocks, tamb, hi-hat, TD, sizzle cym, glsp, slapping sound, tgl, sleigh bells) - 2 elec pf - synth or sampler (Kurzweil K2000) - str(min 6 vln 1, 6 vln 2, 4 vla, 4 vc, 2 db)
Ballet/Dance: Ballet (min 8)
Musical Style: Post-minimalist; lyrical; references to American popular music, jazz, and swing.
Contact: Hendon Music / Boosey & Hawkes
Address: 229 W 28th Street, Floor 11
New York, NY 10001
E-mail Address:
Phone: 212-358-5300
Composer Web Site:
Publisher Web Site:
The Opera Fund Awardee Information
Award Category: 2005 Audience Development Project
Project Name: NIXON IN CHINA - Audience Development
Awardee: Minnesota Opera, The
Director: James Robinson
Conductor: Antony Walker
Schedule of Performances Listings
Nixon in China (Adams)
Saturday, March 14, 2015 - San Diego Opera Association
Nixon in China (Adams)
Friday, June 8, 2012 - San Francisco Opera
Nixon in China (Adams)
Friday, March 16, 2012 - Eugene Opera
Nixon in China (Adams)
Saturday, March 10, 2012 - Lyric Opera of Kansas City
Nixon in China (Adams)
Saturday, February 5, 2011 - Canadian Opera Company
Nixon in China (Adams)
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - Metropolitan Opera
Nixon in China (Adams)
Saturday, March 20, 2010 - Long Beach Opera
Nixon in China (Adams)
Saturday, March 13, 2010 - Vancouver Opera
Nixon in China (Adams)
Saturday, June 7, 2008 - Opera Colorado
Nixon in China (Adams)
Thursday, July 12, 2007 - Cincinnati Opera
Nixon in China (Adams)
Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - Chicago Opera Theater
Nixon in China (Adams)
Saturday, March 25, 2006 - Portland Opera
Nixon in China (Adams)
Sunday, May 15, 2005 - Minnesota Opera
Nixon in China (Adams)
Wednesday, June 16, 2004 - Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Nixon in China (Adams)
Saturday, February 29, 1992 - State Opera of South Australia
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