Kevin Jackson

Aria Rage

History Is Our Mother: Three Libretti


NYRB Classics 202pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

In the late 1980s, I went to the Edinburgh Festival for the UK premiere of Nixon in China, a new opera by the American composer John Adams, with a libretto by the American poet Alice Goodman. I knew the music of John Adams only slightly, from the BBC, and the poems of Alice Goodman not at all. About the only knowledge I brought with me was that this work tackled the unlikely subject of a state visit to Beijing by President Nixon in 1972.

It was a coup de foudre. I loved the music from the very first notes of the stately, melancholic overture. Then the chorus, representing hundreds of Chinese troops, began to sing:

Soldiers of heaven hold the sky
The morning breaks and shadows fly…

Follow Literary Review on Twitter