With Chinese-American relations very much in the spotlight, the critically-acclaimed ‘Nixon in China’, which made its debut in Houston 32 years ago, has finally made its way to Denmark – thanks in part to John Fulljames, the Royal Danish Opera’s artistic director.
John Adams’ opera, with a libretto by Alice Goodman, takes us back to the early 1970s, an undeniable time of change. Man had had just walked on the moon and now US President Richard Nixon visiting China.
The opera duly kicks off with historical footage to set the scene, and it’s effective – almost as though you are landing in Beijing on a cold winter’s day. What was the world taking about in 1972? Oh that’s right, the Vietnam War. We see soldiers wrapped in the American flag in coffins going back to their homeland.
Credit is due to stage director Dick Bird for his minimalist approach. Images from historical archives predominantly in old-fashioned black and white provide an effective backdrop, providing the audience with a sense of authenticity.
Conductors Alexander Vedernikov and Ian Ryan, meanwhile, present a melodic masterpiece. The addition of jazz saxophones are a great touch.
Nixon and Pat a winning team
Fulljames establishes warm and entertaining tones, exerting complete control over his stage, and he engineers a humorous first meeting between Nixon (Johan Reuter) and Chairman Mao (Arnold Bezuyen). Reuter’s deep voice and permanent smirk make for a believable Nixon.
Another highlight is the exhilarating dance section choreographed by John Ross in which Pat Nixon (Sarah Tynan) and Mao’s partner Chiang Ch’ing (Sofie Elkjær) come to the fore. Tynan in particular is not afraid to hit the highest notes.
Least we forget, Nixon’s trip to China came four months short of the Watergate scandal. Sequel potential? We’ll let John Adams be the judge of that.