Nixon in China offers a refreshing and new operatic experience infused with a unique upbeat, American sense of optimism and opportunity. The score has all the element of grand opera – virtuosic singers, sweeping choruses, expansive orchestral colour and a gripping dance scene. In addition it has stunning sets and costumes with dynamic video projections. The plot unveils a personal view of a major political moment, taking the audience inside the imaginations of all the major characters – Nixon, Mao, Pat Nixon, and Madame Mao.
The New York Times described it as “a time machine, giving a glimpse of how the present will look to the future” the Chicago Tribune heralded it as “A theatre piece quite unlike any other”
Fergus Sheil, Artistic Director of Wide Open Opera comments:
“Nixon in China is unquestionably one of the most celebrated operas of our generation. I’m hugely excited to bring this ambitious work to Irish Audiences for the first time. Nixon is proof that opera can successfully take on major issues of our day. Even though the events depicted happened forty years ago, the issues are remarkably current. Countries, alliances and superpowers have so often defined themselves by opposition to “others” – imperialism, fascism, socialism, communism, terrorists, islamo-fascists etc. The “greatness” of the gesture for Richard Nixon to reach a genuine hand of friendship from deep within right-wing republicanism into communist China, is something that cries out for an operatic response of magnificent proportions.
John Adams’ music matches the journey moment by moment; propulsive rhythms, heroic arias, soaring choruses, unsettling dances. Productions of this opera worldwide are major events. I’m delighted that we have collaborated with Vancouver Opera, so that their acclaimed 2010 production, also seen in San Francisco in 2012 will now be seen in Dublin in 2014. The scale of this production follows from our 5-star Tristan und Isolde in 2012 and re-unites our major partners – the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.”
Nixon in China is made possible with the support of The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon. The production is also supported by partnerships with the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.
- 3 hours
- Three Acts
- Two 20 minute intervals
February 21, 1972
A detachment of Chinese troops is gathered at the Peking Airport airfield to welcome the presidential jet, The Spirit of ’76, after its long flight from America. Premier Chou En-lai greets Richard and Pat Nixon as they ceremoniously descend the jet’s ramp. As Nixon describes his flight and rhapsodises about the power and mystery of news, Chou introduces various Chinese officials. Henry Kissinger interrupts to inform Nixon that Chairman Mao Tse-tung wishes to meet with him immediately.
Nixon, Chou and Kissinger are seated in Mao’s study. The Chairman’s three female secretaries help Mao make his entrance and assist him throughout the interview. Nixon attempts to set out his vision of peace between America and China, but Mao speaks in riddles, perplexing his guests with cryptic monologues. Chou, who has been closely monitoring the conversation for some time, at last stands up to signal the end of the meeting.
At a lavish banquet in the Great Hall of the People, the Nixons and Chou enjoy the good food and strong drink. Chou presents a toast, full of praise for the Americans and hope for a peaceful co-existence. Nixon responds with a toast of his own, complimenting his hosts and recanting his previous opposition to China. As the toasting and drinking continues, the party becomes more relaxed and eventually veers towards the chaotic.
The next morning, Pat Nixon is taken on an official tour by her Chinese guides. Followed by reporters and curious citizens, she visits a glass factory, a health clinic, a pig farm, and a primary school. She is then led to the Summer Palace. Pausing at the Gate of Longevity and Good Will, she reflects on the grand possibilities of America’s future with China. The tour moves on to the Ming Tombs, where ancient Chinese emperors were laid to rest.
The Nixons and Mao’s wife Chiang Ch’ing are at the Peking Opera to enjoy a performance of the ballet The Red Detachment of Women, a parable of good and evil that Chiang Ch’ing herself devised as a metaphor of China’s recent revolutionary history. In the ballet, a peasant heroine, oppressed by an evil landlord, escapes, only to be caught again by his lackey, Lao Szu. The line between audience and performers blurs as Kissinger is seen to take on the role of Lao Szu, and events become further confused when the Nixons also find their way into the action. Suddenly, Chiang Ch’ing interrupts the proceedings to reassert her dominance – an echo of her role in the Cultural Revolution.
It is the Americans’ final night in Beijing. The Nixons, Mao and Chiang Ch’ing, Kissinger and Chou ruminate on the week’s events. A sense of exhaustion and doubt is pervasive. It has become clear that, despite all the public displays, the relationship between China and the United States remains uncertain and irresolute. The six look back over their lives in an interlocking series of reflections and recreations. Finally Chou En-lai remains alone, wondering if Nixon’s epic trip was truly worthwhile. He looks to the future and resolves to carry on.
Synopsis reprinted with kind permission of Vancouver Opera.
Australian baritone Barry Ryan has performed with Europe’s leading opera companies including the ROH Covent Garden, La Scala Milan, the Opera Comique in Paris, the Paris Opéra (Bastille), the Deutsche Oper am Rhein Düsseldorf, the Flemish Opera Antwerp, the Komische Oper Berlin, Basel Opera and the Otono Festival Opera Madrid. He was a principal artist with the Cologne Opera from 1988 to 1992 and in 1993 made his Australian Opera debut in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In 2007, he became a fulltime soloist with Opera Australia and has since sung Marcello (La bohème), Sharpless (Madama Butterfly), Amonasro (Aida), Alex in the World Premiere of Bliss, Sonora in La fanciulla del West and George Milton in Bruce Beresford’s new production of Of Mice and Men. Guest appearances have included Pizarro (Fidelio) for Opera Queensland. In 2013, Barry Ryan sang the title role in Nixon in China for Victorian Opera and Gunther in Der Ring des Nibelungen for Opera Australia; he was also awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his services to music. In 2014, he sings Sharpless for Opera Australia in Sydney and Scully in the world premiere production of The Riders for Victorian Opera.
Irish soprano Claudia Boyle graduated from the Royal Irish Academy of Music with first-class honours. She was subsequently an Opera Theatre Company Young Artist and a member of the prestigious Young Singers Project at the 2010 Salzburg Festival. Since Salzburg, Claudia has appeared at Wexford Festival Opera as La Comtesse (La Cour de Célimène) and Elena (Il cappello di paglia di Firenze), at the Komische Oper Berlin as Konstanze (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) and with the Philharmonia Orchestra as Hanna Glawari (The Merry Widow). With Teatro dell’Opera di Roma she has appeared as Cunegonde (Candide), as Konstanze, and in Paul Curran’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This season Claudia Boyle makes her role debut as Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor) with Danish National Opera and appears as Dede (Bernstein’s A Quiet Place) with Ensemble Modern under Kent Nagano. Last season she made her debut with NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under Eivind Gullberg Jensen and with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Paavo Järvi. She also appeared with the RTÉ NSO in an opera gala opposite Joseph Calleja. She was recipient of the Opera Prize at the 2010 ‘s-Hertogenbosch International Vocal Competition and was awarded both First Prize and the Critics’ Prize at the 2012 Concorso Maria Callas Verona.
John Molloy has worked with many opera companies in Ireland and the UK, including Opera North, Opera Ireland, Lyric Opera Productions, Opera Theatre Company and D’Oyly Carte Opera. His operatic roles include Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Snug (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Figaro, Dr Bartolo and Antonio (Le nozze di Figaro), Colline (La bohème), Don Alfonso (Così fan tutte), Don Basilio (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Zuniga (Carmen), Dr Grenvil (La traviata), Il Re (Aida), Arthur (The Lighthouse), Truelove (The Rake’s Progress), Sacristan (Tosca), Tiger Brown (The Threepenny Opera), Cholmondeley (The Yeomen of the Guard), Timur and Mandarin (Turandot), Bonze (Madama Butterfly), Leone (Attila), High Priest (Nabucco) and Count Ribbing (Un ballo in maschera). Recent concert appearances include the Australian premiere of Van Gogh – The Opera with Crash Ensemble at the Canberra International Festival of Music, Haydn’s Creationin The Hague with Continuo Rotterdam, and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with the Macau Orchestra and the chorus of Shanghai Opera House conducted by Tibor Bogányi. John has also appeared with the RTÉ NSO, RTÉ CO, Orchestra of St Cecilia, London Gala Orchestra and The Goldberg Ensemble.
Hubert (Hugh) Francis began the 2013/14 season with his appearance in the role of Herod (Salome) in a production by the State Opera of South Australia presented at the Adelaide Festival. He travels to Amsterdam to join De Nederlands Opera as First Croupier (The Gambler) and returns to the ROH Covent Garden, where he was a member of the young artist ensemble 2002–2004, for the role of Der Bucklige (Die Frau ohne Schatten) and Spoletta (Tosca), a role he has recorded on DVD with Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel. Recent successes include his appearance as Vítek (The Makropoulos Case) at Finnish National Opera, and a tour of Germany and North America with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra as Drum Major (Wozzeck) under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen. Hubert Francis previously appeared in Amsterdam as Thibault (Les Vêpres Siciliennes), a role he repeated at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, where he also sang the role of Goro (Madama Butterfly). Other UK credits include Chekalinsky (The Queen of Spades) at Welsh National Opera and Don Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro) at Grange Park Opera.
Audrey Luna’s performance as Ariel in Thomas Adès’ The Tempest has garnered international acclaim. The DVD of the Metropolitan Opera’s production, in which she was featured, was awarded a French Diapason d’Or, and the audio recording has won a 2014 ‘Best Opera Recording’ Grammy Award. Engagements this season include returns to the Metropolitan Opera as Fiakermilli in Strauss’s Arabella and to Pittsburgh Opera as Queen of the Night (Die Zauberflöte). She is making her debut with Opéra de Montréal in the title role of Lakmé; with San Francisco Symphony as Ariel in Scenes from The Tempest; and with Virginia Opera as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. Recent successes include Zerbinetta (Tanglewood Music Festival and Fort Worth Opera), Queen of the Night (Utah Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago), Carmina Burana (National Philharmonic), soloist in Crumb’s Star Child (American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall); Madame Mao (Lyric Opera of Kansas City); Ariel (Festival Opéra de Québec, also Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia); soloist in Amy Beach’s Grand Mass in E-flat Major and Debussy’s Martyrdom of St Sebastien (National Philharmonic); and Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos (Metropolitan Opera).
British baritone James Cleverton studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and with the Zurich International Opera Studio Young Artist Programme. He has appeared at the ROH Covent Garden, Salzburg Festival, Berlin State Opera, Zurich Opera, ENO, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Glyndebourne on Tour, Opéra de Rennes, Theater Saint Gallen, Lucerne Theatre, Grange Park Opera, English Touring Opera, Garsington Opera, Opera Holland Park, Lyric Opera Productions, Mid Wales Opera, Iford Opera and the Oundle International Festival. On the concert platform he has performed the works of Handel, Haydn, Elgar, Mendelssohn, Orff and Verdi as guest soloist with orchestras including the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, English Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Basel Sinfonietta, Zürcher Kammerorchester and the Swiss Chamber Orchestra. He has a particular affinity for the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, and has performed all of the lead operetta baritone roles with companies such as D’Oyly Carte Opera, Buxton International G&S Festival, Zurich Operetta and Zurich Pocket Opera. Future engagements include returns to the ROH Covent Garden, Opera Holland Park, Garsington Opera, and his debut with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Donald Runnicles.
Irish mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the University for Music and Performing Arts, Vienna. She was also a member of the Opera Studio at Frankfurt Opera from 2010 to 2012. She returned to Frankfurt in the 2012/13 season to reprise her role as Aloés in the critically acclaimed David Alden production of Chabrier’s L’étoile, as well as to sing Dido in the Barrie Kosky production of Dido and Aeneas. January 2014 saw her creating the role of Oscar in the world premiere of Fabrice Bollon’s Oscar und die Dame in Rosa at Theater Freiburg. Her opera repertory includes Ruggiero, Maddalena, Suzuki, Cherubino, Hänsel and Sesto. Sharon enjoys a busy concert schedule, working regularly with orchestras such as the Wiener Akademie, Capella Istrapolitana, Camerata Ireland, RTÉ NSO, RTÉ CO, Irish Baroque Orchestra and Camerata Ireland. The Stream in the Valley, a Music Network-funded recording of English and Irish songs and duets by Benjamin Britten and other composers was released in March 2014 on the GENUIN label. Plans for 2014/15 include Annina in a new production of Der Rosenkavalier at Frankfurt Opera and Medoro in Orlando at Theater Freiburg under the direction of Julia Jones.
Born in Laois, Imelda Drumm studied with Ann-Marie O’Sullivan and Dr Veronica Dunne, and in 1997 was sponsored by Glyndebourne Opera to attend the National Opera Studio, London. She is currently in her final year of doctoral studies in Music in Performance with Dr Veronica Dunne (RIAM/DCU). Imelda has undertaken many international engagements, and has achieved particularly strong relationships with Glyndebourne Opera and Welsh National Opera. She has been a guest mezzo-soprano at WNO since 1998, performing over twelve principal roles with the company. In particular, she is known for the title role of Carmen, which she also performed to critical acclaim for Raymond Gubbay at the Royal Albert Hall, London (2002, 2005). She has won many national and international awards, including the Esso and Richard Lewis/Jean Shanks Glyndebourne Awards, and she was a finalist in the Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition. Her recordings include Hansel and Gretel for Channel 4 TV, Jenůfa under Charles Mackerras, and Falstaff with Bryn Terfel for Welsh TV station S4C. Since relocating to Ireland, new operatic roles have included Brangäne (Tristan und Isolde) with Wide Open Opera, and Azucena (Il trovatore), Amneris (Aida) and Ježibaba (Rusalka) for Lyric Opera Productions. Imelda recently sang the title role of Carmen in an Opera Theatre Company production that received a nomination for Best Opera in the 2013 Irish Times Theatre Awards.
Born in Derry, Doreen Curran studied music at the DIT College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music and the National Opera Studio. Her appearances include Ottavia (L’incoronazione di Poppea) for English National Opera and the Aldeburgh and Buxton Festivals, Mercedes (Carmen) for Glyndebourne Opera on Tour, Blanche (The Gambler) for Grange Park Opera, Zoë (La fiamma), Ernestina (L’occasione fa il ladro) and Penelope (Clione) for Wexford Festival Opera, Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro) for Garsington Opera, Dorabella (Così fan tutte) for Opera Holland Park, Bradamante (Alcina) at the Aldeburgh and Buxton Festivals, Rosina (The Barber of Seville) for Opera Theatre Company, Mother (Hansel and Gretel) and Mary (The Flying Dutchman) for NI Opera, Farnace at the Landestheater Salzburg and Rodelinda for Iford Opera. Doreen Curran sings regularly in concert, and her repertory ranges from Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 to Verdi’s Requiem and Elgar’s Sea Pictures. She has performed with the RTÉ NSO, RTÉ CO, European Youth Orchestra, Irish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Ulster Orchestra. She gives regular Lieder recitals throughout Ireland and England.
Fergus Sheil is founder and Artistic Director of Wide Open Opera, as well as in 2013 becoming Artistic Director of Opera Theatre Company. Fergus conducted Wide Open Opera’s acclaimed 2012 production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (Bord Gáis Energy Theatre/Dublin Theatre Festival). He also conducted the world premiere of Raymond Deane’s The Alma Fetish in concert for WOO in 2013. He has previously worked for Opera Ireland, Wexford Festival Opera, NI Opera, Lyric Opera Productions, Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera in a wide range of repertory. For Carlow Local Authorities, he oversaw the commissioning and performance of Shelter Me From the Rain by Brian Irvine (music) and John McIlduff (text), which received the Allianz Business to Arts award for ‘Best Use of Creativity in the Community’ (2011). With Wide Open Music and the RTÉ NSO, Fergus led two tours of Ireland with the orchestra in 2013, one with Beethoven’s Symphony No 9; the second with celebrity soloist Tasmin Little. He has also involved the RTÉ NSO in community projects (Merge to mark the 600th anniversary of Drogheda) and youth initiatives (Rain Falling Up, 2012). Fergus has also conducted the Ulster Orchestra, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the RTÉ CO, the Northern Sinfonia, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Choir Latvija and BBC Singers. Internationally, Fergus has undertaken engagements in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, UK, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Estonia.
Michael Cavanagh has directed well over 100 main-stage productions at opera companies all over North America. After studies in Hamburg, Germany, he apprenticed at Vancouver Opera before launching his freelance career. He served as Artistic Director of Edmonton Opera for three seasons. He has written libretti for seven chamber operas that have been produced many times, and is actively involved in developing new works by others, including several for Queen of Puddings Music Theatre in Toronto. In June 2012 he made a highly successful debut at San Francisco Opera with his production of Nixon in China, which he developed as Vancouver Opera’s presentation at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. He has also directed at the ROH Covent Garden, Opera Philadelphia, Boston Lyric Opera, Opéra de Montréal and many other companies. Michael Cavanagh enjoys a busy teaching career as well, with regular appearances as director and drama instructor at many young artist programmes and universities. He was recently named Resident Producer/Director at the Opera on the Avalon young artist programme in St John’s, Newfoundland. Upcoming productions include return engagements at the opera companies of Calgary, Austin and Vancouver. He will also be returning to San Francisco Opera with a new production of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.
Erhard Rom is an American scenic designer who has designed settings for nearly 200 productions. His work has been seen at San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, Vancouver Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Minnesota Opera, Syracuse Stage, Geva Theatre Center, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Boston Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Opéra de Montréal, Atlanta Opera and Wolf Trap Opera among many others. He has collaborated with many of the world’s leading directors, including Francesca Zambello, for whom he designed the world premiere of the 2011 Glimmerglass Festival production of A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck with music by Jeanine Tesori and libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. Several of his designs have been featured in the Prague Quadrennial, an international exhibition of scenography and architectural design. His design work was also displayed in the Opera America Design Gallery as part of the opening of the new National Opera Center in Manhattan. Future engagements include a new production of Susannah for San Francisco Opera, Silent Night for Wexford Festival Opera and Semele for Seattle Opera. Erhard Rom is a member of United Scenic Artists, Local 829 and Opera America.
Parvin Mirhady is Head of the Costume Department of Vancouver Opera. Originally an educator in Iran, she moved to Canada over 30 years ago with the ambition of pursuing a career in fashion and design. Having established and run a successful design company for ten years, she began to work in the film industry and subsequently joined Vancouver Opera. She has been a design consultant for over 60 operas in the meantime.
Harry Frehner is one of Canada’s most respected lighting designers. He has designed more than 450 productions, covering the disciplines of opera, dance and theatre. His work, which has garnered many awards, has included world and national premieres in Canada and the USA.
Jessica Kennedy is a choreographer and dance artist based in Dublin. She trained in the USA, Dublin and London, completing her degree in Dance and English Literature at Middlesex University, London. She has performed extensively with dance and theatre companies throughout Europe, the UK and the USA. She has worked in Ireland with Blast Theory, Brokentalkers, Myriad Dance, eX Ensemble, Orla Barry (Belgium) and in productions with The Abbey Theatre, The Ark Theatre and The Pavilion Theatre. She created the award-winning film Motion Sickness (2012), which has screened across 30 festivals worldwide, and has choreographed for and performed in films Blind Runner (Dance Ireland commission 2013/junk ensemble), The Wake (Oonagh Kearney 2013), Dance Emergency (TG4 2014), Wonder House (JDIFF 2012), Her Mother’s Daughters (RTÉ 2010) and Two Hundred Feet (2009). Jessica is Co-Artistic Director of junk ensemble, creating multi-award winning shows including Dusk Ahead (Dublin Theatre Festival/Kilkenny Arts Festival 2013), The Falling Song (UK and Irish tour 2014/Belfast Festival 2012/Dublin Dance Festival 2012), Sometimes we break (Tate London commission 2012), Bird with boy (Dublin Theatre Festival 2012/DFF 2011), Five Ways to Drown (Irish Tour 2012/Dublin Dance Festival 2010), Pygmalion Revisited (Aix en Provence commission 2010) and Drinking Dust (2008). She was awarded Best Female Performer for Dublin Fringe Festival 2006. Jessica was Dancer in Residence at RUA RED Arts Centre 2012/13 where she exhibited her gallery piece entitled Walking on white lines.
Sean Nieuwenhuis’s designs for opera include productions of Faust (Metropolitan Opera), Macbeth (Minnesota Opera), Nixon In China (San Francisco Opera, Kansas City Lyric, Vancouver Opera), The Magic Flute and the world premiere of Lillian Alling (Vancouver Opera). Other design work for the stage includes ten seasons with Canada’s Stratford Festival including productions of The Who’s Tommy, A Word or Two, Cabaret, Wanderlust, Man of La Mancha, Peter Pan and Don Juan. Other regional productions include Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Sideways (La Jolla Playhouse), The Mountaintop (Theatre Calgary) and The Handmaid’s Tale (Royal Winnipeg Ballet). Touring projects have included the shows Adam and Jamie: Behind the Myths, Alton Brown: Edible Inevitable Tour, Larry King: Standing Up and Kids In The Hall. In the event and broadcast world, credits include the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies and Michael Bublé’s third Annual Christmas Special. In addition to his work for the stage, Sean’s studio regularly designs and produces visual content for large-scale industrial shows.