2011年3月10日 星期四

Opera's 'Nixon in China' Moment 歌劇《尼克松在中國》

Opera's 'Nixon in China' Moment
iolinist Li Jue, the widow of Mao Zedong's top conductor Li Delun, uses a paperweight bearing the signature of Richard Nixon, a souvenir from the president's 1972 visit to China, to hold open a vocal score. 'An opera? This is an opera?' she asks, flipping through the pages of 'Nixon in China.' 'When Delun and I joined the Communists in Yan'an, we never imagined that Mao would meet a U.S. president. When Mao met Nixon, we never imagined it would become an opera.'

Mrs. Li's sense of wonderment is shared by many Chinese who are only hearing about the John Adams opera now that New York's Metropolitan Opera is producing it, 24 years after its world premiere in Houston. It's not that they are unfamiliar with Mr. Adams's other works, or that censorship makes the opera unavailable online. Rather Chinese tend to be skeptical of portraying contemporary history in the arts.

For instance Gao Xiang, a composer from Shanghai, has heard 'The Chairman Dances,' Adams's adaptation of music from Act III. Of the opera itself, though, he professes ignorance: 'To turn a political event like that into an opera, how curious!'

The opera's Brooklyn Academy of Music debut in 1987 barely registered among the rising generation of Chinese composers living in New York at the time. 'I tried to watch the video, but couldn't finish it,' confesses Zhou Long, whose opera 'Madame White Snake' premiered last year in Boston and Beijing. 'My impression is that 'Nixon in China' is a story in China for an American audience.'

'I can't recall that any of us ever discussed the opera,' says Chou Wen-chung, a retired Columbia University professor widely considered the dean of Chinese composers. Younger Chinese musicians are, if anything, even less aware. 'There is an opera?' asks a bewildered Zhang Sixu, a sixth-year musicology student at Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music visiting Columbia. 'I'm . . . I'm not sure many Chinese are aware of this.'

Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University who runs a Beijing rock club and mentors experimental musicians, has stumbled across the same gap. 'Over the years, I've asked many musicians who know Adams's music what they thought about 'Nixon in China,' and not a single one that I can remember had heard of it. Musicians who have heard of [Adams's choral-orchestral work] 'Harmonium' or the piano or small ensemble pieces seemed to find it funny when I told them that a serious composer like Adams also wrote an opera about Mao and Nixon.'

'I've lost count of the number of people who have talked about bringing the show to China,' says Eli Marshall, an American composer who studied and lives in Beijing, and has premiered several pieces there. 'I wonder if it would be worth the trouble. And I think the kitsch value of Mao has more currency in the West.'

Edo de Waart, who conducted the original 'Nixon' recording in 1988, would seem be the ideal candidate to bring 'Nixon' to Chinese soil. He conducts the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and artistic freedom is supposedly protected under the former British colony's separate legal system. But fear of Beijing's displeasure runs deep. Reached by e-mail, Maestro de Waart was terse: 'I suggested bringing the opera 'Nixon in China' to Hong Kong several years ago, but the response at the time was lukewarm. So that was the last discussion.' The Met's HD broadcasts are well-attended in Hong Kong, but 'Nixon' is not on the schedule.

The fact that his work isn't on the Chinese radar screen doesn't bother the composer at all. 'This is an American opera, about American mythology' avers Mr. Adams in an interview this month at the Juilliard School, across from the Met. 'The worst thing I could do would be to parody Chinese music. It makes 'Turandot' unbearable,' Mr. Adams insists. 'I wanted to maintain an integrity of the musical palate. I knew that they played music for Nixon on his visit, but had no interest in that at all.'

Poet Alice Goodman, the librettist, is likewise quite clear: 'It requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Mao is not only singing, but he's singing in English, using political and poetic allusions which would mean more to an American,' she says by phone from Cambridge University.

'That's one reason we didn't call it 'Mao Meets Nixon.' It's 'Nixon in China,'' concurs Peter Sellars, director and longtime Adams collaborator, in a phone interview from Chicago. 'It's about Americans encountering China, there is no presumption to state these things for a Chinese person.'

Some Chinese do enjoy the opera once they encounter it. 'I can't believe I've never seen this,' enthuses Zhang Kemin after the curtain falls at the Met premier. Mr. Zhang, raised in Toronto and a resident of Beijing, is the grandson of Mrs. Li and Li Delun, who served as music director for many of Jiang Qing's model operas and ballets—including 'The Red Detachment of Women,' so artfully reimagined in Act II.

Perhaps memories of those works are the real reason Chinese are so reluctant to accept putting recent events on the stage. Mr. Zhang explains that his grandfather saw the propaganda operas as a 'last resort' to save the symphony orchestra from the Cultural Revolution. But once that nightmare was over, many Chinese artists were determined to prevent the arts from becoming the tool of politics again. To see Americans blithely mixing them together is almost as strange as Mao singing in English.

(Mr. Frisch is a writer in Hong Kong. He was a 2009-10 Fulbright fellow at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. )



提 琴家李玨是毛澤東時代中國首席指揮家李德倫的遺孀﹐這會兒正在翻看《尼克松在中國》(Nixon in China)的樂譜。她用一枚鎮紙來壓住翻開的樂譜﹐鎮紙上有理查•尼克松(Richard Nixon)的簽名﹐是這位美國總統1972年訪問中國的紀念品。她一邊翻﹐一邊問﹐歌劇?這真的是一部歌劇嗎?在延安加入共產黨的時候﹐德倫和我都沒有 想到﹐有朝一日﹐毛主席竟然會跟一位美國總統見面。等到毛主席會見尼克松的時候﹐我倆也沒有想到﹐這件事情竟然會衍生出一部歌劇。

紐約的 大都會歌劇院(Metropolitan Opera)正在排演這部歌劇﹐此時距它在休士頓的全球首演已經過去了24年。許多中國人都是到現在才聽說約翰•亞當斯(John Adams)的這部歌劇﹐他們的反應也和李玨一樣迷惑。他們之所以迷惑﹐並不是因為他們對亞當斯的其他作品不熟悉﹐也不是因為審查制度使得他們無法在網上 看到這部歌劇。其中的原因在於﹐中國人往往會對那些描繪當代史的藝術作品心存懷疑。

舉例來說﹐來自上海的作曲家高翔就曾經聽過亞當斯用歌劇第三場音樂改編而成的樂曲《主席跳舞》(The Chairman Dances)﹐但卻坦言自己對歌劇本身一無所知﹐他說:“ 這么一個的政治事件也能編出個歌劇﹐更讓我好奇了﹗”

Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
1987 年﹐《尼克松在中國》在紐約的布魯克林音樂學院(Brooklyn Academy of Music)首演。當時的紐約有一代正在崛起的華裔作曲家﹐可他們並沒有對這部歌劇產生什麼印象。周龍就是其中的一員﹐去年﹐他的歌劇《白蛇 傳》(Madame White Snake)在波士頓和北京首演。周龍坦承﹐當時我看了歌劇的錄影﹐但卻沒能把它看完。我的印象是﹐《尼克松在中國》講的是中國的事情﹐對象卻是美國的觀 眾。

周文中是哥倫比亞大學(Columbia University)的退休教授﹐很多人都視他為華人作曲家當中的教父級人物。他說﹐我完全不記得﹐我的圈子裡有誰曾經說起過這部歌劇。年輕一些的中國 音樂人就算知道這部歌劇﹐所知也只會比他們那一代人更加有限。張斯絮是北京中央音樂學院(Central Conservatory of Music)的研究生﹐主修音樂學﹐目前正在哥倫比亞大學進行訪問。聽說了《尼克松在中國》的事情﹐她迷惑不解地問道﹐有這麼一部歌劇嗎?要我說……要我 說﹐知道它的中國人可不會太多。

邁克爾•佩蒂斯(Michael Pettis)是北京大學(Peking University)的金融學教授﹐在北京開了一家搖滾俱樂部﹐為先鋒派音樂人提供指導。他也注意到了這樣的認識鴻溝:多年以來﹐我問過許多對亞當斯的 音樂有所瞭解的音樂人﹐問他們對《尼克松在中國》有什麼看法﹐可是﹐按我的記憶﹐聽說過這部歌劇的人連一個也沒有。他們都聽過亞當斯的聲樂作品《風 琴》(Harmonium)﹐要不就聽過他的鋼琴曲或是小型的合唱曲目。我告訴他們﹐作為一位嚴肅的作曲家﹐亞當斯還寫過一部關於毛澤東和尼克松的歌劇﹐ 聽了這話﹐他們似乎都覺得非常好笑。

美國作曲家伊淶•馬歇爾(Eli Marshall)曾經在北京求學﹐如今就生活在這座城市﹐還在這裡首演了幾部作品。他說﹐很多人都說起過把這部歌劇介紹到中國的事情﹐多得我都數不過來 了。我總是在想﹐這麼做究竟值不值。按我看﹐毛澤東的大眾娛樂價值還是在西方更有市場。

1988年﹐《尼克松在中國》灌制了第一張唱片﹐ 當時的指揮是艾度•迪華特(Edo de Waart)。如此看來﹐他似乎是將這部歌劇介紹給中國的理想人選。如今他是香港愛樂樂團(Hong Kong Philharmonic)的指揮﹐而香港曾經是英國的殖民地﹐藝術表達的自由得到了名義上的保護。儘管如此﹐大家還是顧慮重重﹐生怕招致北京方面的不 滿。我們通過電子郵件跟迪華特取得了聯繫﹐大師的回復非常簡潔:幾年之前﹐我就曾經提出過在香港上演《尼克松在中國》的建議﹐大家的反應非常冷淡。所以呢 ﹐我再也沒提起過這件事情。香港有很多人觀看大都會歌劇院演出的高清轉播﹐節目表當中卻還是沒有《尼克松在中國》。

自己的作品沒能走上中 國的屏幕﹐亞當斯卻對此不以為意。就在這個月﹐他在大都會歌劇院對面的茱莉亞音樂學院(Juilliard School)接受了一次採訪。採訪當中﹐他鄭重宣稱﹐這是一部美國歌劇﹐講的是美國人心目當中的神話。他堅持認為:我能做的最糟糕的事情也不過是戲仿中 國音樂而已。《圖蘭朵》(Turandot)就是對中國音樂的戲仿﹐結果是簡直叫人聽不下去。我當時的想法是﹐要維持音樂品味的一致性。我知道中國人為訪 華的尼克松演奏了音樂﹐但卻對他們當時演奏的音樂毫無興趣。

詩人艾麗絲•古德曼(Alice Goodman)是歌劇的詞作者﹐她的態度也跟亞當斯一樣毫不含糊。身在劍橋大學(Cambridge University)的她在電話中說﹐這部歌劇需要我們保留一定程度的懷疑。在歌劇當中﹐毛澤東不僅唱了歌﹐唱詞還是英語﹐用的也是一些更符合美國人心 理的政治和詩性隱喻。

長期與亞當斯共事的歌劇導演彼得•瑟拉斯(Peter Sellars)在芝加哥接受了我們的電話採訪﹐他也同意古德曼的看法:當時我們沒用“毛澤東會見尼克松”這個名字﹐這方面的考慮也是原因之一。歌劇的名 字是“尼克松在中國”﹐講的是美國人遭遇中國的事情。我們並沒有打算把這些事情講給中國人聽。

一旦看到這部歌劇﹐有些中國人確實覺得非常 喜歡。看完大都會歌劇院的首演之後﹐張科民激動地說﹐真不敢相信﹐我以前竟然沒看過這部歌劇。在多倫多長大的張科民是李德倫夫婦的外孫﹐如今住在北京。李 德倫曾經為江青的多部樣板戲和芭蕾舞劇擔任過音樂總監﹐其中包括《紅色娘子軍》(The Red Detachment of Women)。在《尼克松在中國》的第二幕當中﹐亞當斯對這部芭蕾舞劇進行了十分精彩的再創作。

興許﹐中國人對把近代史事件搬上舞台不大 感冒的真正原因在於﹐他們依然記得那些樣板戲產生的環境。張科民解釋說﹐當時正在進行文化大革命﹐他的外祖父由此認為﹐那些宣傳式的戲劇是拯救交響樂團的 最後機會。不過﹐等到那場夢魘宣告結束的時候﹐許多中國藝術家就立刻下定了決心﹐絕不能再讓藝術淪為政治的工具。所以呢﹐看到美國人興高采烈地將政治和藝 術混在一起﹐他們的感覺就跟看到毛澤東唱英文歌一樣怪異。