Renee Fleming stars in Nixon In China’s arrival in Paris

John Adams’ Nixon in China, a 1987 work among America’s most acclaimed operas, received its Paris Opera premiere Saturday to eight minutes of applause after a revealing production by Argentine director Valentina Carrasco that replaced literalism with metaphor.

Enduring images were of a dark American eagle facing off against a bright red Chinese dragon and of ping-pong tables symbolizing diplomacy and the pursuit of superiority.

“You really have to be over 60 to remember this, other than it’s something you learn in school,” said Fleming, 64, a soprano who said goodbye to standard repertoire six years ago.

Opera – Nixon in China
Nixon In China has received its premiere at the Paris Opera (Opera national de Paris / AP)

“I’m sorry, but in the context of what’s happening now, Watergate doesn’t seem as horrible as it did at the time.”

Thomas Hampson, 67, an American baritone, played President Richard Nixon, with hunched shoulders and a sweaty face that he repeatedly mopped with a white handkerchief.

Hampson broke Nixon’s stiff victory V-move with arms outstretched during stage calls.

Hampson was a high school student in Spangle, Washington, when Nixon made the seven-day trip to China in 1972, the first visit by an American president after the 1949 communist revolution.

“The whole effort of an American president to just shake hands with everybody was extremely impressive,” Hampson said.

“Nixon will always and forever be Watergate. But there are parts of Richard Nixon’s presidency and parts of Richard Nixon that we just have to analyze and respect for what he is.”

Adams, now 76, made the trip from his California home and signed autographs during the intermission, then joined in the curtain calls. She wrote the opera with librettist Alice Goodman.

“They are larger-than-life characters. They created these personalities, as do most politicians, but between Mao and Kissinger and Madam Mao and Nixon, they are sort of political archetypes and I think that captures the public imagination,” he said.

Nixon launched into the Houston Grand Opera with realistic sets by Peter Sellars that were reproduced for the 2011 Metropolitan Opera premiere.

The Paris Opera became the first major European house to present it, and Nixon makes his debut at the Teatro Real in Madrid on April 17 in a staging by John Fulljames that was first performed at the Royal Danish Opera in 2019.

Gustavo Dudamel directs a strong cast that includes Xiaomeng Zhang as Chou En-lai, Joshua Bloom as Henry Kissinger, John Matthew Myers as Mao Tse-tung, and Kathleen Kim as Madame Mao.

There are seven more performances through April 16, and the April 7 show will air in France and will air later on Medici and Mezzo.


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