Fleming stars as ‘Nixon in China’ arrives at the Paris Opera | ap entertainment

PARIS (AP) – After spending decades portraying generals’ wives, a countess and a courtesan, Renée Fleming cautiously stepped onto the stage at the Bastille Opera in a blonde wig, red coat and black gloves to Pat Nixon , to portray the former First Lady of Opera United States.

John Adams’ 1987 Nixon in China, one of America’s most acclaimed operas, premiered Saturday night to eight minutes of applause at the Paris Opera after a revealing staging by Argentinian director Valentina Carrasco replaced the literal expression with a replaced metaphor. The lasting images featured a dark American eagle confronting a bright red Chinese dragon and ping-pong tables, symbolizing both diplomacy and the quest for superiority.

“You have to be in your mid-60s to even remember it, other than you learn it in school,” said Fleming, a 64-year-old soprano who retired from standard repertoire six years ago. “I’m sorry, but in the context of what’s going on now, Watergate doesn’t seem quite as terrifying as it did back then.”

Thomas Hampson, a 67-year-old American baritone, played President Richard Nixon, complete with hunched shoulders and a sweaty face that he kept dabbing with a white handkerchief. Hampson broke out Nixon’s stiff V-for-win motion with his arms outstretched during the curtain calls.

Hampson was a high school senior 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 around the world was extremely impressive,” Hampson said. “Nixon will always 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 it is.”

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

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

Nixon opened at the Houston Grand Opera with realistic sets by Peter Sellars, which were reproduced for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2011 premiere. The Paris Opera was the first major European house to stage it, and “Nixon” made its debut at the Teatro Real in Madrid on April 17 in a staging by John Fulljames, which was first staged at the Royal Danish Opera in 2019.

Fleming was making her Santa Fe Opera debut on a rainy night in August 2019 when the company’s artistic director, Alexander Neef, approached her with an idea.

“He said, ‘I’m going to Paris and I want you to come in the first three of my seasons,'” Fleming recalled of Neef’s words about his 2021-22 job. “I was kind of shocked and I said, ‘Well, let me see what I can think of that I can sing.'”

Carrasco, now 49, was living in Rome in 2020 and rushed to see the Ara Pacis Augustae monument after an impending pandemic shutdown was announced. As she walked in, she received a call from Neef asking her to direct Nixon.

“I thought it was a sign,” Carrasco said

She had a childhood memory of seeing From Mao to Mozart, a film starring violinist Isaac Stern that won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1981. A segment that stuck in her mind, in which Stern gives a master class and tells a student to swing her instrument while playing like she’s swinging a ping pong bat.

“Ping-pong is good because it’s like a divided terrain, like the Cold War, an Iron Curtain in between,” Carrasco said. “It’s a win-lose situation and I thought it would be an interesting metaphor for the world. And ping-pong is a very beautiful choreography for a picture. And the tiktok, tiktok, tiktok of the ping-pong ball reminded me of a lot of places where the music is very percussive. And then, of course, there was the ping-pong diplomacy.”

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 stream in France and later air on Medici and Mezzo.

Carrasco divides the stage early on into two levels, scenes of diplomacy above and torture below.

Kissinger plays ping-pong against Chou, each dressed like a wrestler, entering a ring. Chou wins the match 69-1 – China repeatedly cheats by not crediting Kissinger with the points won. Carrasco had tried it 49-3 during a rehearsal, using the numbers for the article in the French constitution that allowed the retirement age to be lowered without the approval of the French Assembly.

An excerpt from the Stern film is shown between the second and third acts.

Fleming prepared by speaking with former Nixon employee Frank Gannon and reading Will Swift’s Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage.

“I didn’t know he was funny. I never thought so,” Fleming said. “I didn’t know anything about her. So all this material is really interesting. She was fiercely protective of him and her children.”

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