The Politics of Music: Examining Political Motivations of John Adams' Nixon in China (Honors)

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At any given point in history, the arts have always been subject to political agendas, and music is no exception. As a dramatic art form, opera in particular is a genre that lends itself quite easily to political themes, whether as a reaction to political events or to push an agenda. My research aims to explore the politics of music, in particular how John Adams' grand opera Nixon in China aligned with American political designs in the 1980s concerning the U.S. international image during the Cold War.

In my research, I examine the characterization of Richard and Pat Nixon, Mao Zedong, and Madame Mao, as well as other elements of the opera such as stylistic choices made by John Adams (the composer), Alice Goodman (the librettist), and Peter Sellars (the director). I analyze these elements through the lens of political motivation and American public sentiment surrounding the historical event that the opera is based off of. I also compare these choices to the real-world events that the characters of the opera act out, and analyze both historical accuracy as well as how the events were depicted by the media of the time.



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