San Diego Opera performs ‘Nixon in China’

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The San Diego Opera is bringing a bit of American history to the stage this weekend in a relatively new piece that’s a far cry from Puccini and Mozart: “Nixon in China.” The third production of the San Diego Opera’s 50th Anniversary season is one of the most popular performed today and it could only have been created by an American composer in the 20th Century.

“Across America right now there is an amazing resurgence of American Opera, of Contemporary Opera and Modern Opera. And what’s great is that we’re celebrating not just American Opera and its whole genus and it’s whole genre as opposed to Verde and Mozart and all the European composers. We’re celebrating the American story, the American experience,” said Joseph Mechavich, a conductor at the San Diego Opera. 

“Nixon in China” chronicles the historic visits of Richard and Pat Nixon to Communist China after years of that country’s isolation from the west.

It’s a study of how myths come to be and how detente can open up nations to new ideas.

“I’ve done this opera many times. Every time I do it I learn something new about Pat Nixon, about the opera itself, about how she fits in the opera, and I find her extraordinary, and really just such a beautiful person inside and out. She was a humanitarian, and I never forget that from start to finish in the opera,” said Maria Kanyova, who plays Pat Nixon in “Nixon in China.”

“I didn’t do much research until I read the libretto first, about Mao, and from the libretto, I came to like him. He’s had this odd charm about him. It’s an epic piece. Not only should you see it once, you should see it twice. The music is constantly flowing, it has an arrow to it that it just constantly moving and there’s a constant motion and constant rhythm in it. It’s never boring,” said Chad Shelton, who plays Mao Tse Tung in “Nixon in China.”

For those who may have avoided opera out of fear they wouldn’t understand it, “Nixon in China” is a wonderful introduction, staged in English, with a variety of musical styles that will delight audiences of all ages.

“John Adams with his music, which is very very accessible its its sonic world is jazzy, it pulsates. It has elements of of almost a rock and roll sometimes, and it pulsates throughout the whole evening. It’s very sonorous. And everyone will be very welcomed by the sound they hear coming from the pit,” Mechavich said. 

The indelible portraits of historical figures including Mao Tse Tung, Chou En-Lei, Henry Kissinger and the Nixon’s are set against a stunning audio visual backdrop.

Much of this opera’s delight is that it’s storytelling is done not only lyrically, but also through beautiful and sometimes haunting choreography.

“If someone hasn’t been to an opera before, and they choose “Nixon in China” as their first opera, essentially what they’re going to see is one of the greatest American operas ever written. It’s almost like being at a rock opera. It’s relevant, it’s exciting, it has everything to offer,” Kanyova added.

“Nixon in China” opens Saturday and runs through March 22. Tickets are still available.

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