John Adams – ‘Nixon In China’

Year: 1987

In 1972, President Richard Nixon traveled to China to meet with Mao Zedong in an effort to strengthen relations between the two countries in the later years of the Vietnam War. It was one of the most important diplomatic moments of the 20th century, and it’s the visit that would have defined Nixon if Watergate never happened. It’s the kind of real life epic that could only be captured in an opera.

At least that’s what John Adams thought in 1983 when he began writing the score to his first opera to Alice Goodman’s libretto and Mark Morris’ choreography. Adams wrote the opera by the encouragement of stage director Peter Sellars, who saw the complexities of Nixon’s visit; it could have been an election ploy, a genuine diplomatic mission, or both. However, Adams and Sellars did not want to create another bland satire poking at the easy target of Nixon, an awkward power-hungry stiff who is perhaps the easiest American President to make fun of. The goal of the opera was to explore the humans on both sides of the meeting and to capture the historical moment from those who were actually there. Even the title Nixon in China invokes some involuntary humor – can you imagine Richard Nixon walking around in China? Adams understands what he’s going up against in his attempt to humanize Nixon, and the play’s success is how he often gets close to his goal.

The main characters are Nixon and his wife Pat, Mao Zedong and his wife Jiang Qing (Madame Mao), and the two advisors of each leader, Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai. The opera is divided into three acts: Act One details the first night of the visit and the initial meetings between Nixon and Mao, Act Two follows Pat around rural China and exploring everyday Chinese life, and Act Three describes Nixon’s last night in China and everyone’s mixed feelings on the success of the visit.

Nixon in China has always been more influential than acclaimed – its initial reviews were mixed – but over the years it has earned its position as one of America’s most important operas. It is more famous for its existence than its success as an emotional engaging piece of music; few operas are based on a media event that was televised all around the world. Though the opera takes place in China, Adams’ score borrows almost entirely from Philip Glass’ minimalist style and rarely takes on any Oriental influence. That’s where Goodman’s libretto comes in, which is written in rhymed and metered couplets inspired by traditional Chinese poetry and theater.

American operas may not be as established or as grand as its European siblings, but Nixon in China was, and still is, a groundbreaking attempt at turning an old and inaccessible musical style into something modern and, dare I say, relatable? Also, does anyone think the beginning of the opera sounds like Elliott Smith?

Every Best Selling Album In The U.S., Organized By U.S. Presidents (Because ‘Murica)

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When I watched last week’s State Of The Union address, I had two thoughts: “Hey, those are a lot of great plans that Congress won’t pass,” and “Hey, I should organize every best selling album in the U.S. by who was President was at the time, our readers would love that!”

We’re starting with Eisenhower in 1956 because that was the first year album sales were tracked in the U.S., and all this data comes from this Wikipedia page, so take it for what it’s worth.

I also had to make some adjustments to what years went to which Presidents. For example, JFK has 1961 – 1963 since he officially began his term on January 20, 1961 and was assassinated November 22, 1963, so I’m just rounding up. Also, Nixon resigned office on August 1974 in the middle of the year, but I’m giving him all of 1974 just to make things easier for myself (sorry Gerald Ford). Reminder – all these album sales only include US sales.

Here are some interesting takeaways from doing all this research:

Albums that were bestsellers in back to back years:

-My Fair Lady soundtrack (1957-58)

-West Side Story soundtrack (1962-63)

-Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983-84)

-Adele’s 21 (2011-12)

Artist with the most bestselling albums: Elton John (1974’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1975’s Elton John’s Greatest Hits, and 1994’s The Lion King soundtrack)

Other artists with multiple bestselling albums:

-Whitney Houston (1986’s Whitney Houston and 1993’s The Bodyguard soundtrack)

-Mariah Carey (1991’s Mariah Carey and 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi)

-Eminem (2002’s The Eminem Show and 2010’s Recovery)

-Taylor Swift (2009’s Fearless and 2014’s 1989)

Artist I wasn’t expecting to have a bestselling album in the U.S.: Toto (though it is the album that has “Africa”)

Artist I was expecting to have a bestselling album in the U.S. but actually didn’t: The Eagles (they’re one of the bestselling bands of all time, but they never dominated a single year)

The most ironic album-President paring: Nixon and War’s The World Is a Ghetto

Alrighty, let’s begin:

 

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Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953 – 1960)

1956: Harry Belafonte – Calypso

1957 and 1958: My Fair Lady (Broadway cast recording)

1959: Henry Mancini – Music from Peter Gunn

1960: The Sound of Music (Broadway cast recording)

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John F. Kennedy (1961 – 1963)

1961: Camelot (Broadway cast recording)

1962 and 1963: West Side Story soundtrack

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Lyndon B. Johnson (1964 – 1968)

1964: Hello, Dolly! (Broadway cast recording)

1965: Mary Poppins soundtrack

1966: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – Whipped Cream & Other Delights

1967: The Monkees – More of The Monkees

1968: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced?

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Richard Nixon (1969 – 1974)

1969: Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

1970: Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

1971: Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack

1972: Neil Young – Harvest

1973: War – The World Is a Ghetto

1974: Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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Gerald Ford (1975 – 1976)

1975: Elton John – Elton John’s Greatest Hits

1976: Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

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Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1980)

1977: Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

1978: Bee Gees – Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

1979: Billy Joel – 52nd Street

1980: AC/DC – Back in Black

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Ronald Reagan (1981 – 1988)

1981: REO Speedwagon – Hi Infidelity

1982: Toto – Toto IV

1983 and 1984: Michael Jackson – Thriller

1985: Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.

1986: Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

1987: Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

1988: George Michael – Faith

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George H. W. Bush (1989 – 1992)

1989: Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

1990: Janet Jackson – Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814

1991: Mariah Carey – Mariah Carey

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All

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Bill Clinton (1993 – 2000)

1993: Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard soundtrack

1994: Elton John – The Lion King soundtrack

1995: Hootie and the Blowfish – Cracked Rear View

1996: Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill

1997: Spice Girls – Spice

1998: James Horner and Celine Dion – Titanic soundtrack

1999: Backstreet Boys – Millennium

2000: *NSYNC – No Strings Attached

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George W. Bush (2001 – 2008)

2001: Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory

2002: Eminem – The Eminem Show

2003: 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’

2004: Usher – Confessions

2005: Mariah Carey – The Emancipation of Mimi

2006: High School Musical soundtrack

2007: Josh Groban – Noel

2008: Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III

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Barack Obama (2009 – current)

2009: Taylor Swift – Fearless

2010: Eminem – Recovery

2011 and 2012: Adele – 21

2013: Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

2014: Taylor Swift – 1989

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