Nixon in China: The Set
The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of composer John Adams’s Nixon in China has been getting all sorts of attention. Most of it owes to the mesmerizing music (conducted by Adams himself), with a libretto by Alice Goodman and direction by Peter Sellars. But in addition to the singing (with James Maddalena and Janis Kelly as Richard and Pat Nixon and Kathleen Kim as an incredible Madame Mao), or the choreography by Mark Morris, we especially enjoyed the hauntingly spare, monumentally scaled sets designed by Adrianne Lobel. They evoked the underdone trappings and architecture we in the West perceived as typical of Maoist China. Backdrops and layers of scrim drop in place in receding proscenium arches. The sets dramatically conjure up the various mise-en-scènes for Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing (or should we say Peking) in 1972: from the airport where a huge flat of the presidential plane (not quite as pop as James Rosenquist’s F-111 of 1964-65) to the abstracted bedrooms of the last act.