The Irish Mail on Sunday
East meets West in opera that’s a visual and musical delight
The breadth and width of the Bord Gáis Theatre gave full scope to this visually stunning production of John Adams’s 1987 opera about President Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. The highly nuanced libretto that explores the philosophies of Mao and Chou En-Lai also reveals not only Nixon’s obsession with good press coverage, but also the visionary and mental qualities this staunch anti-communist cold warrior employed to bring China out of the cold and into world politics.
It opens with a chorus of soldiers awaiting the plane’s arrival, chanting some of the guff out of Mao’s red book, and moves on to the intriguing personal wordplay between the representatives of capitalism and revolution. The philosophical, tetchy Mao is contrasted with the more diplomatic Chou of James Cleverton.
The work is more memorable for individual scenes than for its overall impact. Particularly effective are the Great Hall banquet and the powerful play within a play in act two. The third act, a contemplative study of the contrasting leaders, Mao, Chou and Nixon, though moving in places, was an anticlimax after the preceding act.
John Adams’s music doesn’t always have the melodic power to sustain the long, philosophical arias, but his richly coloured orchestrations had the symphonic power you get in operas by Richard Strauss, bringing out the quality of the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra.
There was some fine singing, especially from Audrey Luna as Mao’s wife in act two, when a stage performance about a savage landlord morphs into the savagery of the Cultural Revolution, and the writing and singing brought her megalomania dramatically alive.
Claudia Boyle gave a touching performance as Pat Nixon in her showpiece aria revealing her humanity. John Molloy was in excellent voice as Henry Kissinger, who, surprisingly, was portrayed as a lecherous, slightly ridiculous figure of no great intellect.
Despite the fact that it’s overlong and there’s not what we usually consider a plot, this is the kind of work we see rarely, and it provided a musically exciting performance and a genuine night to remember.
In A New Day, it’s pitch black as college student Dee, swearing, stumbles into her mother Susan’s apartment where she trips over Susan lying on a couch.
Susan has long since split from her husband, so Dee assumes she can make unannounced visits at any time of day or night. She is a combination of every feckless student stereotype ever invented: Self-obsessed, loud, insensitive, and she speaks in youthful jargon about being bladdered after drink, how her mother might be a hooch goblin, how her father shacked up with a skank, and how everything is so boring or so something else.
Gerard Lee’s new play is a light comedy on a recognisable subject that has the merit of not attempting much philosophising.
It soon becomes clear that there’s a man in the next room, but it takes a long time for the penny to drop with Dee. She’s incapable of believing that her mother could actually be living a life of her own.
The conversation between the two rattles along without ever reaching the peak one might expect between a mother reasserting her independence and a freewheeling daughter.
But, after all, this is a light lunchtime piece, not Long Day’s Journey
Into Night. Charlotte Bradley as Susan and Kate Stanley Brennan as Dee attack it with gusto.
It stalls somewhat when the man (Anthony Brophy) is introduced but it’s still an entertaining, unpretentious piece of fun.