Jerry doesn’t want to go to the opera. After almost 4 years of marriage I am coming to terms with things on which we differ. There is so much we agree about, even, these days, politics (at first we had some differences about that). Neither of us likes to watch TV, neither of us is interested in sports, both of us are interested in science and we like to read and learn about it. We discuss a wide range of subjects, we kiss and cuddle, walk together, drink wine together, work on various projects around the house together and he likes my cooking. We are friends and lovers.
But he won’t go to the opera, so if I want to go (and I do) I either have to go alone or find someone to go with.
I bought 2 tickets to Nixon in China – yes, that’s an opera – and my lawyer daughter, Deborah, took me. It was wonderful.
She drove up from where she lives on Whidbey Island and picked me up at the ferry on the mainland side. Then she drove me to Vancouver. We went early so we would have time for any form of frivolity that we might fancy. We went to the Indian neighborhood and browsed the shops. Deborah makes Easter baskets for her whole family so she bought trinkets with an East Indian flavor to put in the baskets. Stuff like spangled pillow covers for her grown up daughter and figurines of Ganeshes and other gods. The store owner told us long stories about Indian gods. Then we went to an Indian grocery store and looked at all the exotic foods and spices. Deborah bought many things to make curries with. I bought pickled green pepper corns and saffron.
Next we drove to our prearranged (by Deborah) downtown hotel. A nice young man whisked the car away, while another nice young man took our bags and other things inside. Our room was on the 10th floor and had a good view of city streets and tall buildings. It was small, but comfortable, with crisp white linens and white-sheet duvet covers that make one feel that everything on the bed was freshly washed. Bathrobes were provided.
I said, “We should have bought a bottle of wine.”
Deborah said, “We’ll go down to the bar and have a drink. I want a martini.”
The bar was elegant; it was decorated in a streamlined Art Deco style – simple and soothing. Deborah chatted and joked with the waiter and the bartender. She had a sugary sweet fruit martini. I had a glass of red wine.
Next we dressed for the opera. Deborah wore black pants and a jacket and top with black and blue spangled paisley figures on it. She glittered. I wore a black wool skirt and a black silk jacket lined with red silk that my ex-husband, Hugh, brought back from a business trip to Hong Kong many years ago. I usually wear that to the opera.
We walked to a fancy French restaurant where Deborah had made reservations. Waiters hovered. I thanked the boy who poured our water, and he murmured, “My pleasure.”
The food was excellent. We both had fresh halibut which has just come in season here in the northwest. We speculated about the opera. I had been told by a friend here on the island that it was “very political”. Deborah had read about it on Wikipedia. She said that there was a well know aria “I am the wife of Chairman Mao.” I had heard an orchestral excerpt, “The Chairman Dances” on the radio, and my friend said the music was modern. But neither Deborah nor I really knew what to expect.
When we were settled in our seats in the renovated Queen Elizabeth Theater (in the balcony, but still $80 a ticket), I looked through opera glasses at the curtain covering the stage, which I had mistakenly thought had a repeat floral design; the flowers were faces of Chinese people. As the house darkened and the orchestra began to play the faces faded from the curtain and clouds appeared, then through the clouds the plane Air Force One materialized. As the overture ended the plane landed and a chorus which could be seen in silouette behind the translucent curtain began to sing hauntingly.
The sets were stark and simple, but made to look magical with elaborate lighting effects and splashes of red.
There were 6 main characters wonderfully portrayed. Nixon, shallow, paranoid, speaking in clichés and slogans; Pat Nixon, simple, childlike and naïve, sometimes puzzled, sometimes horrified by what she saw, Kissenger, lustful and devious, Chairman Mao, old, crusty, repeating revolutionary dogma and living in the past, Madam Mao, angry, defiant and afraid, and finally, Chou En-lai the philosopher, the thinker, questioning the value of the revolution.
There was a spectacular ballet sequence in the second act in which a young girl, dressed in brilliant red, is whipped for being insufficiently revolutionary. The other characters watch as if in a theater. Pat cries, “Stop them! Stop them!” Nixon says, “It’s just a play, dear, you’ll see, she will get up in the end.”
The people sitting next to us left after the second act. We spent the intermissions (there were 2) waiting in line for the toilets (no line for the men’s room) and commenting on the way people dress at the opera. They wear everything from the most outré evening dress to hiking clothes.
The music is modern, with elements of big band music that came from about the time of Nixon’s visit to China. Nixon dances with Pat, and after a bit Madam Mao grabs the Chairman’s hand and says, “Come on, we’ll show these mother fuckers how to dance.” Then all four do a sort of jitter bug.
There were no pretty arias, and it must have been extremely difficult to sing. I found the music interesting, and it certainly matched the subject matter and themes.
The libretto was poetry, sprinkled with revolutionary slogans from the Chinese, and patriotic slogans from Nixon. It was written by a poet, Alice Goodman, and I think is a masterpiece. The language is simple and yet the ideas are complex. It has the essence of revolutionary thought, of the Chinese past, of American culture and of the fears and hopes of everyman.
I thought it was great art and great theater. I loved it.
We walked back to the hotel in a light rain.
The next day Deborah went to church and I went to a book store. I bought a book for Jerry, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson.
At the border driving home we ran out of gas. After a lot of consultation and long inspection of our passports the heavily armed border guards permitted us to walk to a nearby gas station with a can for gas.
I was a bit late coming home, and tired. But it was worth it.
I’d do it again in a revolutionary minute.
Sounds great!!!! I love opera, too!!!!!
I’m so jealous. I would love to see that opera! I love your close description of this experience.
Sounds like you had a great visit, hotel, opera, shopping, and all.
What a full day or two you had. I have done something similar with my daughter and love the girlie time we had.
Oh how wonderful. I hope it comes to Toronto. And I love your opera duds.
I’ve managed to persuade my husband to accompany me to the opera on occasion. But his tastes are very traditional – lots of tenor, not too much soprano, and everybody dead by the last act – so I’ll never get him to see this one. But it sounds like something I would enjoy. And the beauty of the opera, unlike the cinema, is that I really don’t mind going alone.
What a wonderful post. If I wasn’t already working for Vancouver Opera, I would want to see the opera, just based on your description! 🙂
Thank you so much for coming to see Nixon in China. I’m glad to read that you and your daughter made a lovely girls getaway out of it.
Hope to see you at the next opera!
All the best,
Ling Chan, Social Media Manager
Oh, I wish I could have come too! I love opera. I have never seen Nixon in China, but I knew the librettist when we were at college and served together on the editorial board of the literary magazine.
I should have added that I think this is a tippity top Old Woman post. I especially liked the way you tossed off running out of gas at the end. Hell, you were at a revolutionary opera. What was running out of gas?
reading this was like going along (but not having to pay 😉
I’m jealous! Enjoyed reading this for I love opera, we even had season tickets last year but somehow haven’t made it to one this season. It would have been fun to meet there! Glad you had a great girls’ weekend though what a letdown of an experience getting home.
It sounds fantastic. There’s nothing better than a little mother daughter time. I thrive on girl time. Right now my daughter is visiting Finland, Russia, Belgium and Estonia. I can’t wait for her to come home.
Thanks for the review – I think we might have to check out this one. Sounds like you and Debbie had a great time and Vancouver is such a great city to enjoy, too. Maybe we’ll get that husband of yours to enjoy these types of outings someday?!
I enjoyed this tour of Vancouver and your review of the opera. I wondered about the opera, since all I knew about was based on “critical” reviews. Not one of my friends has seen it so far, so it was good to hear from such a great source!
it took me a while to remember that it was Adams who wrote it, not Glass. I’ve never seen it. If I ever have the chance I will, you make it sound very interesting, to say the least. It sounds like you had an altogether splendid outing.
Opera is how Beloved made his living; he was the principal viola at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for many decades. We love opera, pity you couldn’t have taken me.
Oh you captured the time so well, Anne, what a gorgeous trip with your daughter!
I was a seasoner at the COC (Canadian Opera Company) for over 30 years so miss it very much out here on the edge.
I would definitely make this opera a priority, it sounds marvellous.
And dash those female bathrooms, these architects need to wake up and maybe unisex is the way to go?
Oh My, I’m in awe, in envy, in hopes it comes here too. Thank you so much for taking us along with you.
Thank you so very much for all the details about your excursion. Thought of you when I read this post on “Potty Parity.”
You’ve gotten me interested in at least finding some version of this to listen to.
My spouse is one to like opera, while I prefer dance. At least we both love seeing plays and live bands.
I actually thought that the cute border guards only added to the entire experience.
What a wonderful time with your daughter. You are fortunate to have a substitute for Jerry. My husband didn’t like Opera either, so I went alone.
I know you don’t put badges on your blog, but I had to include you in my list. If you want to see what I offered you, please wander over to my blog.
interesting post. I had not heard of this opera but it certainly sounds interesting in an odd sort of way. I liked your story about going to see Nixon in China in Vancouver with your daughter. What a lovely trip! Thanks for sharing.