Houston Grand Opera Preview 2016-17: ‘Nixon in China’ Takes Stage on Same Day As Presidential Inauguration

By David Salazar

While one president takes his oath to office another president from the past takes center stage at the Houston Grand Opera.

John Adams’ “Nixon in China” resumes the company’s 2016-17 season on Friday, Jan. 20 marking its return to the company that originally commissioned it to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

The Opera

The opera premiered on October 22, 1987 in a production by Peter Sellars and relates the former US President’s 1972 visit to China. The work explores the psyche of the president, focusing on the creation of mythmaking and the emphasis on legacy from the two monumental rulers communicating in the work.

The Performers

Taking on the iconic president is Scott Hendricks. He will be singing the role for the first time after spending most of his career taking on the operas of Puccini and Verdi. He has been rather prominent in the role of the villainous Scarpia in “Tosca,” taking on the opera in Munich, Stuttgart, New Orleans, Barcelona and Tel Aviv in the last five years.

Playing the role of Pat Nixon is soprano Andriana Chuchman, also taking on the role for the first time. Her repertoire is handsomely varied with everything from Mozart to “Showboat” among the works she has recently performed.

Chad Shelton portrays Mao Tse-tung while Patrick Carfizzi plays Henry Kissinger. Chen-Ye Yuan plays Chou En-Lai and Tracy Dahl plays Chiang Ch’ing.

Robert Spano conducts.

Notable Recordings

The original recording of the opera from 1996 with Edo de Waart directing the Orchestra of St. Luke’s is the obvious first look, but there is also one conducted by Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra that is worth a listen. That one features Robert Orth, Maria Kanyova, Thomas Hammons, Marc Heller, Tracy Dahl and Chen-Ye Yuan.

For those looking to see the work on video featuring a production by Sellars, the Met’s Live in HD series offers up a set that stars James Maddalena, Janis Kelly, Richard Paul Fink, Kathleen Kim, Tamara Mumford and Robert Brubaker with the composer in the pit.