Nixon in China: Minimalist Rant on an Awful Opera

Last summer, Vin and I started going to the Cincinnati Opera where we enjoyed 3 wonderful operas last year. This summer, with great excitement, we subscribed to the entire season (Cincinnati Opera is a summer season, they produce 4 operas each summer).

We enjoyed Faust in mid-June, then had to miss Cosi Fan Tutte due to an unexpected death in the family. We gave our tickets to our friends who said they very much enjoyed the performance. The third opera this year was Nixon in China. We went to see it on Saturday night.

[[image:nixon_internal.jpg:This graphic pinjamed from the Cincinnati Opera site:center:0]]

Now begins the rant. Better not continue reading if you object to profanities because I’m afraid I can’t contain myself on this one.



It was an opera in 3 acts, with intermissions between each act. We stayed for 2 acts and left during the second intermission. The opera seemed interminable. Hell, it’s a travesty to even call it an opera. To be an opera, first, all of the words MUST be sung. There can’t be any spoken words – that’s what makes stuff like Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and not operas because the plot is furthered by speaking lines rather than entirely sung libretto. There was NO SINGING in Nixon in China. Seriously! There was chanting, there were what sounded like random notes thrown together, the kind of stuff that makes me think that the composer John Adams closed his eyes and started marking notes on blank sheet music with one hand tied behind his back. Then he gave that to the orchestra and to the singers and said, “Here’s my Opera. Good luck, yo.” It hurt to sit there. So how can it even be called an opera with no music to speak of?

The first act was a prime example of minimalism. Which is great if you like minimalism but terrible if you actually like music. Minimalist music, in a nutshell, is “pared down” therefore contains very few notes/rhythms/motifs which are repeated. Basically, minimalist music is like recording 30 seconds of a 3-year-old sitting at a piano randomly hitting the keys which is then put into a loop to repeat ad infinitum.

Nothing in the first act was remotely close to being melodious, harmonious, or even musical. Which made sitting through it one of the most agonizing time of my life. I may not have gone through the pain of childbirth, but I’m inclined to say that childbirth might be less painful. At least at the end of it one gets to hold the beautiful baby and forget the pain. In this case, it was excruciating pain rewarded only by berating oneself for wasting good money not to mention the fact that now I can’t let go of the fact that I fucking HATED this GODAWFUL OPERA and I can’t get it out of my head! There was chanting, random repeated notes (which aren’t melodious, not melodious, odious), hampered by the fact that the libretto (the words) were mundane. Who cares if spring is in the air, Pat Nixon!?! As Vin said, you can say “Spring is in the air” anytime from January to April. So you spend one blinking day in China and you think spring is in the air? And State functions, which is already boring in real life, was not helped by the minimalist bullshit that it was set to. If only there had been some fucking MUSIC, something remotely musical in this act!!

Vin and I held back during the first intermission. Surely the rest of the opera must be better, we thought. Surely, they won’t make us sit through another act of eardrum-mutilating “music”. The second act starts off with Pat Nixon going off to see a bunch of things in China (a clinic, a pig farm, all based on the actual visit of Richard and Pat Nixon to China in 1972). She then starts meandering off into her own world, randomly stringing together notes and words. The libretto mentions random and mundane things that happen in the USA. I suppose she was trying to tell us that things are not so different in China and the US, that people are people everywhere and do everyday people things together everywhere in the world. This message DID NOT come through. It sounded random and unfocused, not to mention it was NOT MUSICAL. And to repeat: she didn’t sing the words, more like she just hit some pitches at random.

Sad to say, the highlight of the opera was the ballet in the second act. Ballet, you say? I thought you went to the opera, Sila. Well, that’s what we thought, too! Then, even the ballet degenerated. There was a play within the opera, and it was confusing and stupid. The message DID NOT come through. There was still NO SINGING. There was a fake rape, fake murders (thrown in just as abruptly in the opera as in this rant). THEN… Madame Mao weighed in! I can’t even express how much this hurt us. She had no real point, and SHE DID NOT SING ANY MUSIC. Did I mention random notes thrown together? Yelling on pitch? Oh that, she did! And this is why I must blo-OG blo-OG blo-OG OG OG OG OG OG about how much this minimalist opera SUCKED. There was even spitting going on on stage – I’m sure it was mimed, but at the end of this supposed play-within-the-opera, the actors all ran over and spit in the face of one of the actresses. WTF?? There wasn’t a real point to all of this. Minimalistically, I have to say that it FUCKING SUCKED ASS FUCK FUCK SUCK FUCK FUCKING SUCKED ASS.

As soon as the second act ended, Vin and I left post-haste. We were foaming in the mouth at the vileness that this so-called opera turned out to be. So I say it here. DO NOT WATCH THIS MISERABLE EXCUSE FOR MUSIC!

The highlight of our evening? The nice Indian dinner we had prior to the opera.

Oh and Vin said that the best thing about the opera was that they managed to find a singer who sort of looked like Richard Nixon (sorry, dude, it would suck to look like Nixon).

I hate to come across as so anti-minimalist music, but I remember the days when I DJed at WHRB, and one Afternoon Concert, I played (per the playlist) Steve Reich‘s Six Pianos, which sounded like he got six pianists on six pianos to randomly and rhythmically hit the same goddamn keys over and over and over. 20 years or more these pianists trained, to play something that a monkey can play all by himself. 120 years of expensive music training, wasted on 30 minutes of repeated crap that resulted in calls that my CD was skipping. For real! Within a couple of minutes of Six Pianos being played, I got several calls from listeners, telling me that my CD was skipping. I had to take that piece of shit off the air and replace it with another 20th Century piece. I don’t hate all minimalist music – hell Philip Glass elevated it to a real art form, and has written amazing scores for movies incorporating minimalism into his work. One can even be clever and musical. However, this opera failed miserably.

To end this rant, a mini-minimalist rant dedicated to John Adams:

Nixon in China was not an Opera
It was not musical
Not musical
Nixon in China sucked ass! (a-ASS! a-ASS!)
There must be something good in it! Surely there must be!
Must there be? Be? Be?
May a Bee sting you in the ASS you poser-composer
Give me back my money! My time!
Nixon in China?
What were you thinking?
SUCKED so bad I have to rant

Imagine a bunch of people randomly screaming the above, accompanied by some musicians, and there you have it. Nixon in China. It. Sucked. ASS.

Wish us luck on Aida in a couple of weeks. It can’t possibly be as bad as Nixon in China, right?

Posted in Rants.

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