The Chicago Opera Theater production of John Adams's Nixon in China is winning raves from the Chicago critics: Wynne Delacoma, John von Rhein, Marc Geelhoed, Andrew Patner. Patner writes: "It is a part of Adams's unique artistic character that he is able to combine a structural and even populist savvy with a genuine technical facility and originality to create works that, as they say, have legs and take on long and busy lives of their own in the concert hall as well as in the opera house. And his particular take on the deceptively simple (emphasis here on deceptively) rhythmic and harmonic loops of the minimalist system finds a certain depth and psychological as well as aesthetic resonance that moves it out of its initial period of composition and première and comes as close as any recent music has to achieving timelessness."
After its 1987 premiere in Houston and follow-up stagings in Amsterdam, Washington, and Brooklyn, this great American opera came dangerously close to dropping out of sight. In 1996 I wrote a piece for the Times complaining about the total lack of productions. In the last few years, it has had a resurgence; the Chicago show is a co-production with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Portland Opera, and the Minnesota Opera, all of whom have had success with the work (a Houston Grand Opera version is upcoming). Next month comes a revival of Peter Sellars's original staging at the ENO in London, with James Maddalena again in the lead. Yet the stubborn fact remains: Nixon has never been staged by New York's two big opera companies. That datum measures quite precisely the degree to which both the Met and City Opera have been inept in the field of contemporary music. Hopefully, the situation is about to change.