Ironically, back when we first saw The Death of Klinghoffer, the controversial opera on the 1985 hijacking of an Italian ship by four young Palestinian men and their murder of an elderly disabled Jewish American man who’d had nothing to do with Israel, on the Met’s HD broadcast schedule, my family wasn’t sure we’d even bother with it. We’d seen Nixon in China and thought it all very well(although the clash of the real and surreal made it a bit odd as an opera), except that the dissonance-based score was headache-inducing. But when certain people bullied the Met into taking it off the schedule, and my mom and I decided to weekend in New York, we decided what the hell, go see in person the opera certain people were trying to keep from us, and even booked our seats for the matinee show yesterday which would’ve been the transmitted performance, and instead ultimately became the final one. So I have now seen the Met in person, discovered while box seats have their fun points they all have their disadvantage when it comes to the angles, and discovered that between his freshman and his sophomore work, John Adams showed himself to have a very definite modus operandi, and also as a pure composer reached a whole new level of achievement. Also, even though I felt a headache coming on moments before curtain, between when the music started and the curtain call I noticed no pain at all-though that might have simply been how absorbing the opera was.
John Adams is a modern composer who apparently likes to write operas about historical American events, and his work about Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, first produced in 1987, was apparently his first. It took a little longer to reach the Met, though; it’s only now they accepted it to be played on their stage by way of importing a London production. This is hardly surprising; if we think an opera portraying Richard Nixon sympathetically is weird today, it was even weirder back in the 80s. That leaves out the issue of Chairman Mao and his wife, who get the same treatment by Adams, even if the last initially appears to be a touch crazy.