Alice Goodman on putting poetry into 'Nixon'


New member
Alice Goodman well recalls the first time she heard the fateful words "Nixon in China."

After graduating from Harvard University in 1980, she had gone to Cambridge University in England to study literature and soon ran out of money. Then a call came from an ex-classmate, theatrical whiz kid Peter Sellars.

"He said he had come up with a title for an opera and would I be interested in writing the libretto," Goodman recounted in an interview at the Metropolitan Opera House, one day after the company performed the work for the first time. The production runs through Feb. 19, with the matinee on Saturday, Feb. 12, to be transmitted in HD to movie theaters around the world.

"I remember saying to Peter on the phone, 'Will this pay as much as a junior research fellowship?' And he said, 'If you want it to, Alice,' which of course meant, 'You should have asked for more, you silly woman.'"

Nearly 30 years later, details of that collaboration remain fresh in her memory. Also fresh are her lively sense of humor, her intellectual curiosity and her passionate feelings about theater and poetry.

"It really was the title that persuaded me to do it," she said. "'Nixon in China' struck my ear as a perfect title. It sounded right, it sounded clean, it sounded new, and it sounded like it belonged in the canon."

She describes her first meeting with John Adams, the composer Sellars had chosen to write the score, as "like a blind date." They met at the Kennedy Center in Washington, where Sellars was running a theater company.