Nixon in China Dress Rehearsal

January 18, 2017 - January 18, 2017
Recurring daily
Houston Grand Opera
510 Preston Street, Suite 500 | Houston, TX 77002

ACT I Scene 1: the airfield outside Peking It is a cold, clear, dry morning: Monday, February 21, 1972. Contingents of army, navy, and air force circle the field and sing “The Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points of Attention.� Premier Chou En-lai, accompanied by a small group of officials, strolls onto the runway just as The Spirit of ’76 taxis into view. President Nixon disembarks. The two men shake hands and the president sings of his excitement and his fears. Scene 2 An hour later, President Nixon is in a meeting with Chairman Mao. Mao’s conversational armory contains philosophical apothegms, unexpected political observations, proverbs, and gnomic jokes, and everything he sings is amplified by his secretaries and the premier. It is not easy for a Westerner to hold his own in such a dialogue. Scene 3 After the audience with Mao, everyone at the first evening’s banquet is euphoric. President and Mrs. Nixon manage to exchange a few words before Premier Chou rises to make the first of the evening’s toasts, a tribute to patriotic fraternity. The president replies, toasting the Chinese people and the hope of peace. The toasts continue, with less formality, as the night goes on. Intermission ACT II Scene 1 Snow has fallen during the night. In the morning, Mrs. Nixon is ushered onstage by her party of guides and journalists. She explains a little of what it feels like for a woman like her to be first lady, and accepts a glass elephant from the workers at the Peking Glass Factory. She visits the Evergreen People’s Commune and the Summer Palace, where she pauses in the Gate of Longevity and Goodwill to sing “This is prophetic!� Then, on to the Ming Tombs before sunset. Scene 2 In the evening, the Nixons attend a performance of The Red Detachment of Women, a revolutionary ballet devised by Mao’s wife, Chiang Ch’ing. The ballet entwines ideological rectitude with Hollywood-style emotion. The Nixons respond to the latter; they are drawn to the downtrodden peasant girl—in fact they are drawn into the action on the side of simple virtue. This was not precisely what Chiang Ch’ing had in mind. She sings “I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung,� ending with full choral backing. Scene 3 The final night in Peking.

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