John Adams' opera 'Nixon in China' has come back to Paris for the first time since 1991. And today, even viewers outside of France can watch the Theatre du Chatelet's production live online.
The production is directed and choreographed by Chen Shi-Zheng, a Chinese director who saw firsthand the effects of Mao's Cultural Revolution. As a four-year-old, Chen watched his own mother shot to death on the streets.
Adams' opera adapts the historical account of then-President Nixon's 1972 trip to China to meet with Mao, accompanied by wife Pat and advisor Henry Kissinger. The meeting signaled the beginning of detente, in a major shift from Cold War America's previously ultra-rigid, anti-communist stance.
In the aria "News has a kind of mystery," Nixon sings of his first meeting with premier Chou En-Lai: "though we spoke quietly / The eyes and ears of history /Caught every gesture / And every word, transforming us / As we, transfixed / Made history."
Adams, working with librettist and poet Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars, began work on the opera (his first) in 1985, after Sellars approached him with the idea. Adams returned to historical and political inspiration with later operas including "The Death of Klinghoffer" (about the Palestinian Liberation Front's 1985 hijacking of a passenger ship) and "Doc Atomic" (about Robert Oppenheimer and the invention of the atomic bomb). Recently, Adams claimed that he'd been blacklisted by the U.S. government for his artistic activities.
"Nixon in China" depicts the Americans' arrival in China, conversation between Mao and Nixon, Pat Nixon's tour of the country, a performance of a political ballet-opera and other events that were extensively recorded in 1972, though not with an uncritical eye. It also features a decidedly salacious Henry Kissinger.
In today's performance, beginning at 1:30 PM EST, the role of Richard Nixon will be sung by Franco Pomponi, Pat Nixon by June Anderson, Kissinger by Peter Sidhom, Chairman Mao by Alfred Kim and Madame Mao by Sumi Jo.