Adams at the opera for Friday, October 23, 2020

Royalty was often flattered by the composers of the Baroque age. Handel wrote glorious ceremonial music for British monarchs, and Bach was not above working up an obsequiously complimentary cantata or two for some German Prince. At the French Court of Versailles, King Louis XIV himself appeared on stage for cameo appearances during operas and ballets whose stories complemented Louis’ wisdom, talent, and impeccable good taste. On today’s date in 1987, at the Houston Grand Opera in Texas, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Chairman Mao didn’t come on stage in their OWN personas, but did appear as characters in the premiere of a new opera by the American composer, John Adams. “Nixon in China” was a somewhat surreal and not necessarily flattering dramatization of a real event: President Nixon’s ground-breaking trip to communist China in 1972. One can only guess at the former President’s reaction to being portrayed on stage. Adams did report that Richard Nixon’s lawyer, Leonard Garment, attended a performance of “Nixon in China,” most likely on the former President’s behalf. No lawsuit followed, and, Adams notes with some amusement, that Garment even became something of a fan of his music!