Friday, March 4, 2011

Nixon in China . Reviewed by Malcolm Miller


Three performances at the Dendy Cinema, February 26 and 27 and March 3, 2011.

Reviewed by Malcolm Miller

As part of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s  “Live in HD” series of operas for cinemas  with  appropriate facilities, this relatively unknown  (in Australia) but well–developed performance brought a notable modern opera to Canberra cinemagoers.  Based on the historic visit of President Richard Nixon, played by James Maddelena, in 1972, it presents a partly newsreel view and a partly fantasy one of a China in the throes of enormous change.  Janis Kelly as Pat Nixon was frighteningly realistic, especially in the aria where she tells us that she is a poor  girl  who never looks back.  Her intense commitment to her husband, and her compassion for others shine through.
Henry Kissinger  as Secretary of State accompanied Nixon.  His role in the opera  is a low key one which does not flatter the cunning statesman.  In contrast, the actor Richard Paul Fink who plays him also plays a part in a fantastic version of the real ballet, ‘The Red Detachment of Women’, in the second act.  As a singer he admits that this was ‘hard work’!
The strongest role was that of Chou En–Lai, depicted by Russell Braun as a cultivated and politically sagacious leader.  In contrast to him was the role of Madame Mao, played with passion by coloratura soprano Kathleen Kim. 
The part of the ageing, almost dying Chairman Mao taken by Robert Brubaker, showed us a once great man, now finding  consolation in philosophy. 
To me as one who lived through these events, the depiction of Nixon , eager for his re–election and excited about the news value of his daring trip, was very true to life.
  We owe a great deal to the ‘Met’ and its generous sponsors, and to the Dendy, for making it possible for us to see this and other magnificent productions  without  having the enormous expense of a trip to New York plus the cost of a Met Opera ticket!