Opera Australia will perform at Vivid Live for the first time this year with a concert of contemporary music including the Sydney premiere of John Adams’s The Nixon Tapes, programmed to celebrate the composer’s 70th birthday this year.

Opera Australia will perform John Adams’ The Nixon Tapes as part of Vivid Live. Picture courtesy of Opera Australia

Vivid Live is part of Vivid Sydney, the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas, which will illuminate the city over 23 nights from May 26 to June 17. The music programme, Vivid Live, takes place over various venues including the Sydney Opera House, Carriageworks and City Recital Hall, and this year features a line-up of more than 250 events.

The Nixon Tapes comprises four semi-staged scenes from Adams’ debut 1987 opera Nixon in China about Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China – which Nixon himself described as “the week that changed the world”. Peter Sellars’ original 1987 production of the three-act opera was staged at the Adelaide Festival in 1992, and Victorian Opera staged it in 2013 but Nixon in China has never been produced in Sydney.

The Nixon Tapes will be performed by five OA soloists alongside the OA Orchestra and Chorus, and conducted by Andrew Mogrelia. It features highlights from the score including the iconic landing of the presidential plane and Madame Mao’s terrifying coloratura aria I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung. Eva Kong will sing the role of Madame Mao (a role she played for Victorian Opera), with Christopher Tonkin as Chou En-lai, Luke Gabbedy as Richard Nixon, David Parkin as Henry Kissinger and Jane Ede as Nixon’s wife Pat.

Eva Kong as Madame Mao for Victorian Opera. Photograph © Jeff Busby

“It’s absolutely wonderful to finally be able to fold the Opera, as one of our key resident companies, into the Vivid Live festival,” Ben Marshall, the curator of Vivid Live tells Limelight.

The concert – at the SOH Concert Hall on June 5 – will also feature orchestral works by rock stars-turned-classical composers Bryce Dessner (American guitarist for The National) and Jonny Greenwood (English guitarist for Radiohead).

“Vivid Live is about excellence and ambition and the gold standard in contemporary music and there’s a lovely note we can strike to celebrate three important living composers. And obviously, John Adams turning 70 is a real milestone that we’d like to give a nod to. Works by Jonny Greenwood and Bryce Dessner are more the traditional [type of repertoire for] Vivid Live audiences but it’s good to be able to unveil the full tapestry of contemporary music and give a nod to as broad a breadth as we possibly can,” says Marshall.

The concert begins with Greenwood’s first orchestral foray Popcorn Superhet Receiver, commissioned in 2005 by the BBC. Greenwood has compared the sound to his memories of childhood car rides when the hum of the engine created a droning counterpoint to music playing in the tape deck or on the radio. Greenwood adapted some of the suite for his score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 film There Will Be Blood starring Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano.

The concert also includes Dessner’s unsettling St Carolyn by the Sea, of which Gramophone said: “With its inspiration in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur, St Carolyn by the Sea suffuses its harmonic richness with a long-term rhythmic momentum – minimalist in style if not in substance – redolent of Reich’s brief involvement with orchestral writing in the 1980s.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra will present Mountain as part of Vivid Live. Photograph © Jennifer Peedom

The other major classical music event will be Mountain, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s epic cinematic-musical collaboration with Jennifer Peedom, director of the film documentary Sherpa, which will premiere at the SOH as part of Vivid Live. It features a soundscape of music by Chopin, Grieg, Vivaldi, Corelli, Beethoven and new works by Tognetti to mirror Peedom’s stunning images of mountain landscapes.

In another exciting piece of programming, Ensemble Offspring will present the world premiere of Seven Stories at City Recital Hall. The multisensory collaboration combines music, storytelling and film. It brings seven female Australian composers – Amanda Brown, Kyls Burtland, Jodi Phillis, Jane Sheldon, Bree van Reyk, Sally Whitwell and Caitlin Yeo – together with Ensemble Offspring musicians, playwright Hilary Bell and video artist Sarah-Jane Woulahan, who will weave together seven stories to present the world from a female perspective.

Other artists at Vivid Live include English electronic duo Goldfrapp, American folk-rock band Fleet Foxes, British singer-songwriter Laura Marling and Grammy award-winning jazz singer Dianne Reeves among others. “Fleet Foxes have put out a Spotify playlist of all the things that influenced their forthcoming third record and Stravinsky and Steve Reich were key in there. There’s a real interplay between the contemporary rock world and the indie classical,” says Marshall. “There is an opening up of the modern music consumer’s mind to connecting the worlds of jazz, contemporary classical, indie rock and electronic work as one continuous tapestry rather than everything being hived off into different sections, which is a really encouraging development.”

Vivid Sydney has grown exponentially since it was established in 2009. “In 2016, a record-breaking 2.31 million visitors came to Vivid Sydney, which is testament to the festival’s impressive line-up, continued innovation and growth over the past nine years,” said Destination NSW Chief Executive Officer and Executive Producer of Vivid Sydney, Sandra Chipchase. With an expanded footprint in 2017, that figure is only likely to grow. There will be a new precinct with light installations at Barangaroo and an extended light walk through the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney – which proved hugely popular when it was added as a new precinct in 2016.

Ash Bolland will create an installation called Audio Creatures on the Sydney Opera House sails for Vivid Live. Photograph © Vivid Live

This year, the sails of the Sydney Opera House (a centrepiece of Vivid Light) will come alive with imaginary creatures curated and designed by cinematographer, editor and graphic designer Ash Bolland, set to music by Brazilian electronic producer Amon Tobin. The façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art will be illuminated by Australian artist Julia Gorman and the Paris-based artistic collective Danny Rose. Popular precincts at Chatwood, Taronga Zoo, Martin Place and Darling Harbour will also return.

The Vivid Ideas programme will feature more than 200 events headlined by American artist Shepard Fairey whose body of work includes his Barack Obama HOPE campaign and this year’s “We The People” initiative. Fairey will share his do-it-yourself approach and will also create a large-scale public mural live on a wall in Sydney’s CBD.

Tickets to Vivid Live go on sale on Monday March 20 at 9am