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Thankfully, we still have 'Nixon' to kick around

March 6, 2010 |  8:30 am

Nix When I was in college, I hated Richard Nixon. Everyone I knew (except perhaps my father) hated Richard Nixon. My perspective was as a politically engaged undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley during the war in Vietnam — holding a low draft number.

I gradually stopped hating Nixon. But it wasn’t until Oct. 22, 1987, in the company of bejeweled and Stetson-topped Texans, that I began to understand why. Houston Grand Opera had commissioned John Adams’ “Nixon in China” to celebrate the opening of a new opera house.

The “Nixon” premiere was a milestone in American opera, instigating what the New York press pejoratively dubbed “CNN Opera.” As a subject for books, plays and films, Nixon, who died in 1994, remains ever fascinating. China, of course, has been ever on our minds.

But now “Nixon” is back and big time. On March 13, Vancouver Opera will unveil a new production, as part of the Canadian city’s lingering 2010 Cultural Olympiad. The following Saturday, Long Beach Opera will present a different new production at Terrace Theater, the first Southern California staging of the opera since Los Angeles Opera’s in 1990. Last month, week, the Metropolitan Opera announced that it has invited Peter Sellars to re-create his “Nixon” production in New York next season, and the composer will conduct.

Despite its neglect by major opera companies over the past two decades, “Nixon in China” now comes to us as a classic. The opera remains as topical as ever, but the world has changed. 

To read my assessment in Sunday's Arts & Books section of how prescient and relevant this work is, click here.

--Mark Swed

Photo: John Duykers as Mao Tse-tung, 1990. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times