This Saturday night just gone I had the pleasure of taking in the Canadian premiere of Vancouver Opera’s performance of Nixon in China. The first thing I will say is, WOW. An incredible performance. Stunning. Compelling and bizarre. Now let me add, this is not Carmen or anything like Carmen.
I won’t get into the story other than to say that the opera is about the five days in 1972 that Richard and Pat Nixon spent in China with Chairman Mao and Madame Mao. West meets east in John Adam’s post-Minimalist opera. Alice Goodman’s literate libretto resonates with poetry (if you clicked on the above link you will notice that I am copying from the VO’s own description of Nixon in China).
For me, the most powerful part of the opera was the combination of Robert Orth and Sally Diblee playing the parts of Richard and Pat Nixon. Robert Orth was spooky in the role of Dick Nixon. His jutting chin and one million watt-teeth bearing smile, the way he moved his shoulders, all this took me back to 1972. It was uncanny. And Pat Nixon and her ditsy, smiling vacancy was portrayed by Diblee remarkably.
I found the “dialogue” to be part spoken-word, slam-poetry and part opera. One couple I spoke to during the second intermission (the first of two relatively short intermissions) said that they had thought about leaving after Act I but were glad that they stayed for Act II because as they said, it finally turned into an opera. Conversely, I loved Act I primarily because of the set which married film and live performance. And did I mention Robert Orth’s performance?
However, the couple that I spoke to about leaving were obviously not the only ones who thought about it. In fact, even though it was a sold-out performance, my opera attending companion and I were able to slide over an entire row after the first act because, we assume, the seat holders had left after the first act.
I like what the VO has done. In the fall the VO created a position called Social Media Manager. Ling Chan has quite successfully assumed the responsibilities of that position. I am very impressed with the efforts that the Vancouver Opera has made at reaching out to the community. Some of those efforts involve the Vancouver Opera very effectively reaching out to a new audience demographic through the use of social media.
Vancouver Opera is on Twitter. Vancouver Opera has a Facebook page and their own blog. Vancouver Opera is out in the community engaging people through interactive events. As well, on opening night, the Vancouver Opera brings in a group of bloggers to live-blog (during intermissions only) the performance. The bloggers at Nixon in China were, Being Emme, Digital Gus, Tris Hussey and Darren Barefoot. Uber-blogger Raul Pecheco was in attendance for the first act but had to leave due to the demands of his academic responsibilities.
I am very impressed with the Vancouver Opera’s willingness to redefine themselves in the marketplace, while honouring and respecting the long-standing supporters (the old codgers with gobs of money, to put it crassly). I am particularly with the efforts made by Ms Ling Chan. Well done Vancouver Opera, a tip of the hat to another successful 50 years in Vancouver!