The Metropolitan Opera HD Live: Season 5, Episode 6

John Adams: Nixon in China (12 Feb. 2011)

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US President Richard Nixon, wife Pat, and Henry Kissinger travel to China to visit Chairman and Madame Mao in 1972, normalizing relations between the countries for the first time in 25 years. Both sides wonder if this for the better.



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Episode credited cast:
James Maddalena ...
Janis Kelly ...
Robert Brubaker ...
Kathleen Kim ...
Chian Ch'ing
Russell Braun ...
Richard Paul Fink ...
Ginger Costa-Jackson ...
Nancy Ch'ing (First Secretary to Mao)
Teresa S. Herold ...
Second Secretary to Mao
Tamara Mumford ...
Third Secretary to Mao
Haruno Yamazaki ...
Solo Dancers
Kanji Segawa ...
Solo Dancers
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
John Adams ...
Himself - Conductor
Metropolitan Opera Ballet ...
Thomas Hampson ...
Herself - Host
Leo Kubota ...
Chinese Soldier / Waiter


US President Richard Nixon, wife Pat, and Henry Kissinger travel to China to visit Chairman and Madame Mao in 1972, normalizing relations between the countries for the first time in 25 years. Both sides wonder if this for the better.

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Release Date:

12 February 2011 (USA)  »

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Production Co:

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Technical Specs


(without intermission)

Aspect Ratio:

16:9 HD
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Did You Know?


Remake of Great Performances: Nixon in China (1988) See more »

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User Reviews

The Chairman Doesn't Dance
16 May 2012 | by (Birmingham, England) – See all my reviews

This is an opera that I have been wanting to hear for a long time. It premiered in 1987 but has only recently been recognised as a masterpiece and this 2011 production is its first by the New York Met. It is as collaboration between composer John Adams, director Peter Sellars and librettist Alice Goodman. These three prominent liberals tell a fascinating story of how arch-conservative Richard Nixon initiates a process of détente with communist China. This is the first of a new breed of late 20th century verismo, or operas that are similar to docu-dramas. The three collaborators on Nixon went on to produce The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic. Watching this opera also reminds me of works such as Jerry Springer the Opera and Anna Nicole. Obviously, I have got that the wrong way round. Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole should remind me of Nixon in China.

The opera starts in an almost pedestrian way, with Nixon exchanging pleasantries with Premier Chou En-lai after the Spirit of 76 touches down in China. James Maddalena's Nixon sings the opera's most famous aria. "News has a kind of mystery". This is a repetitive, almost stuttering, piece somewhat reminiscent of Handel in the way the same phrases are repeated over and over again. Maddelana, who originated the role in 1987, is probably past his best as a singer but his slightly croaky delivery seems strangely appropriate for the role.

Nixon and Henry Kissinger, sung by bass Richard Paul Fink, then meet Chou and Chairman Mao. Nixon wants to dive into the problems of Vietnam, Taiwan and Korea but Mao is only interested in talking political philosophy. I loved the way that tenor Robert Brubaker, as Mao is accompanied by three secretaries who repeat everything he says in counterpoint. There is then a banquet where Russell Braun's Chou sings a lyrical aria welcoming the visitors.

Janis Kelly as a remarkable lookalike for Patricia Nixon then has a chance to shine in a hilarious scene as she is given the spouse's conducted tour of a hospital, pig farm and school. Things get more surreal when the Nixon's attend a performance of the Chinese opera. The Nixon's get carried away with the action and rush on stage to rescue a peasant girl who is being oppressed by an evil capitalist looking remarkably like Henry Kissinger. Mao's wife, Chian Ch'ing, sung by Kathleen Kim becomes angry that the opera is being misinterpreted and sings an incredible coloratura aria "I am the wife of Chairman Mao. I speak according to the book." She waves Mao's little red book as she sings. This is my favourite moment of the opera. Days afterwards, I found myself humming "I am the wife of Chairman Mao", as I went about my daily chores.

The final act is even more surreal. It is the last day of the visit and the six main characters all go to bed, apparently in the same room. Nixon recalls the war in the Pacific, Mao remembers the long march. The mortally ill Chou wanders what is to come. Beds are a recurring theme throughout this opera. At various points we see Nixon or his wife lying exhausted on beds making clear the physical strain of visiting a country 11 time zones away.

I was waiting for The Chairman Dances, one of John Adams's most famous pieces not realising that it never made it into the opera. It is an outtake from an earlier version. I suspect that, like me, many people in the audience at the Met were puzzled by its absence.

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