This January, Houston Grand Opera performs Nixon In China from January 20-28, 2017. John Adams ’ Nixon In China was composed to commemorate, “the week that changed the world,” which is what President Nixon called his visit to China in 1972. Nixon surprised the U.S. populace with the visit, considering the U.S. was engaged in an unpopular war with North Viet Nam. The People’s Republic of China, (PRC) and U.S. forces engaged in a conflict in Korea in the 1950’s and the Chinese supported North Viet Nam at the beginning of the current conflict.
Things changed when China was seeking another ally due to the pressure the Soviet Union was exerting on the PRC with skirmishes on the Russia- China border. At the same time, Russia was now supporting North Viet Nam. President Nixon seized the opportunity to meet with the PRC and recognized the opportunity for increased U.S. – China trade.
The historic meeting was covered wall to wall in the U.S. on black and white TV for 14 days. Extensive coverage on radio and print was how China received the visit because of the lack of televisions for the general populace in China.
This three hour opera originally made its debut in Houston as one of the three operas that opened the new Wortham Theater Center in 1987. It was conceived by director Peter Sellars in 1983 who approached John Adams to write the music. Adams contacted Alice Goodman and Nixon In China was born.
Get ready for a look at history as Act 1 opens with President Nixon and first lady Pat Nixon deplane in Peking and are greeted by Premier Chou En-lai and other officials. An hour later Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meet with Chairmain Mao. The first act ends with a banquet honoring the Americans in the Great Hall of the People.
Act 2 finds the first lady sight seeing. She visits a glass factory where she is presented a glass elephant and finds out that they are mass-produced. Andriana Churchman, making her Houston Opera debut, was wonderful as Pat Nixon. Her voice was clear, strong and delightful. That night the Nixon’s attend a ballet written by Mao’s wife, Chiang Ch’ing.. It is a revolutionary ballet that is very disturbing to the first lady. She rushes on stage to help the peasant girl who is being tortured. Chiang Ch’ing’s part played by Tracy Dahl, was memorable as she sang about the glories of the Cultural Revolution.
Act 3 finds all of the various parties in their respective rooms summing up the events of the week
This opera takes a look at history that was written while most of those involved were still living. The orchestra directed by Patrick Summers, the Chorus and the Corps Dancers combine to make a delightful evening. Find out more at www.houstongrandopera.org.