Nixon in China | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The long overdue local debut of Nixon in China evokes the landmark moment in 1972 when canny cold warrior Richard Nixon reached out to Mao Tse-tung in a shrewd election-year ploy to divide the communist bloc, pave the way for peace in Vietnam, and lure voters away from the Democrats. Composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman have reimagined the occasion, dramatizing the psychological and strategic subtexts of the small talk and sloganeering as Tricky Dick and his first lady parlay and party with Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, while TV transforms a diplomatic visit into a global media event. Our understanding of this political triumph, of course, is colored by our knowledge of what soon followed: Nixon's disgrace, Mao's death, and Jiang's prosecution for leading the ruinous Cultural Revolution. Despite a mixed reception at its 1987 premiere at the Houston Grand Opera, Nixon in China has weathered the test of time and stands as one of the 20th century's major operas. James Robinson's Chicago Opera Theater production features top-notch performers--including baritone Robert Orth in an uncanny impersonation of Nixon and tenor Mark Duffin as an infirm but sage Mao--backed by rows of video monitors playing documentary footage of the events being reenacted onstage. Adams's fiercely beautiful score, with its rich choral harmonies, intricate polyrhythms, and often thrilling orchestrations, is masterfully conveyed by conductor Alexander Platt. The remaining performances in the five-show run are Sunday, Thursday, and next Saturday, May 27. Fri 5/19, 7:30 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-704-8414, $35-$115, student discounts are available.

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