Poet Alice Goodman was one third of the trinity behind the 1987 opera “Nixon in China”. Music was by John Adams. And the premier at the Houston Grand Opera was directed by Peter Sellars. How do relationships like this work?
The recording I have includes the original cast, especially James Maddalena in the role of Richard Nixon and Sanford Sylvan as Chou En-lai. It’s been a while since my last hearing of the work but the melodies and many of the words are still in my head. This evening I’m recollecting a toast at the banquet which concludes Act I, particularly one line: “…from vision to inheritance…”
That fragment from Goodman’s libretto (based on the actual words of Chou readily available in video recordings from the event itself) resonated with a project I hope to undertake as an Agincourt spin-off component, a collaboration between the architecture and art programs at NDSU’s SoDAA (School of Design, Architecture & Art). It’s the synergy between Goodman’s words and Adams’s music that has lodged in my memory: in true “minimalist” form, Chou repeats the phrase three or four times. Sanford Sylvan voice lingers in memory, perhaps, as much as the words and music.
Quite aside from opera itself, though, it’s the power of those four words — “…from vision to inheritance…” — that strike me. Isn’t it what we’re all supposed to be about? I wonder if they were Chou’s words or whether Ms Good man put them in his mouth.