Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Convergence of Politics and Opera

Dear Richard Nixon,

It's a funny thing how presidencies turn out isn't it? Sometimes, no, usually, from one perspective or other they start out in a blaze of glory, and then they piddle out and it's over after four mostly inglorious years, not long enough to do a great deal of damage, or they don't piddle out fast enough and they run amok, to be remembered as fiascos. (Remember Carter, remember Clinton, and (shudder) think about the death throes of the current regime.)

Certainly your presidency ran amok. Yet, as I look back, I think there were some glorious things, things to be proud of. Possibly the top thing you did was a little thing indeed. You said these words, "The People's Republic of China," publicly. Funny how a few well placed words can create ripples that can change the world, can depetrify a situation. Then you let some kids play table tennis or ping pong as we always said in our basement. And then, (unprecedented) you announced that you would travel to Beijing. It was a media sensation. So, in 1972, off you went to drink tea and change the world with a little chit chat.

The Miller Center for Public Affairs says, "It was only a first step, but a decisive one, in the budding rapprochement between the two states."

Many things have come of this. Cheap flower baskets, leaded toys, another incredible part of the world accessible to tourism. (Cuba is next.) But I think the most musically notable derivative is the opera by John Adams entitled Nixon in China. It is fabulous in every way. The music, the libretto by Alice Goodman, the original production by Peter Sellars. . . it works buddy. Better than a presidential library, honestly, to immortalize a presidency.

Here's a link to another aria, thought by some to be the high point of the opera, but you may disagree, Dick. I like your aria, especially with the Spirit of '72 dropping down onto the stage like that!

I'll write more later. I'd like to ask some questions about that first run at the presidency that you took against JFK. I was in third grade, but remember it vividly!




Erudite Redneck said...

Thanks for stoppin' by my place, Betsy. Come back any time.

I was in third grade, or second, maybe, when RMN went to China! The only public (TV) events bigger in my early-childhood memory were the moon landing and watching POW's get off the airplane.

BTW, I wonder if it's true that the Chinese have a saying, "Only Nixon can go to China"? (I think I picked that up in a history grad seminar on modern China led by Orville Schell.)

brd said...


Come back any time. I've visited you. You have quite the conversations over there. I like the idea that there is a Chinese expression about Nixon in China. I wonder what it nuances.

brd said...

Factoid from Wikipedia:

"Because Nixon had an undisputed reputation of being a staunch anti-Communist, he was largely immune to any criticism of being "soft on Communism" by figures on the right of American politics. The phrase "Nixon going to China" is thus an analogy which refers to the unique ability that hardline politicians have to challenge political taboos and third rail issues. Only a proven hardline right-wing politician can succeed in challenging a conservative sacred cow, and vice versa for left-wingers."