Monday, February 14, 2011

Nixon In China

PAT Nixon, that is, at least on Saturday's Thrilling Live Transmission from the Met in New York City.

Janis Kelly, as Pat Nixon, pretty much stole the show, the highlight being the aria "This is prophetic" which she sang with a combination plaintiveness and defiance that was heart-rending and astonishing. Alice Goodman wrote the libretto.

Leaving Nixon and Kissinger and Mao and Chou to their own celebrity and megalomania, Pat, alone at the Gate of Longevity and Good Will sings of ordinary things. "Why regret/Life which is so much like a dream..." Maternally she sings "Let routine/Dull the edge of mortality." And while the presidents and despots surrounded by their minions plan a high-tech and industrialized future Pat entreats for the common situation, "Let lonely drivers on the road/Pull over for a bite to eat."

For seven relentless minutes alone on the stage, with the bold pathos of a woman from a Greek tragedy, Kelly unfolds one after the other commonplace, seemingly mundane concerns, Whitmanesque in their inclusiveness, juxtaposing kindness to the orchestra playing John Adams' slow, portentous, pulsating, tumbling, minimalist river of a score, expressing good wishes in contrast to the tumult of the world fate has placed her in--- kindness, good wishes, hopes, some quiet, personal observations, making them, in their simplicity, deep and profound, human. The aria concludes in a multi-nuanced call, again echoing Whitman, to "Bless this union...Let it remain inviolate."

A tour de force that, three days later, I still can't get out of my head.

I saw the Thrilling Live Transmission at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara, with its faux-outdoor Spanish courtyard motif and stars twinkling in the ceiling.

"Nixon In China"
Music by John Adams
Libretto by Alice Goodman

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