Margaret MacMillan and Nixon in China

Posted by Vancouver Opera On 11:51 AM
In my final blog before Nixon in China opens at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I want to talk about Margaret MacMillan, her appearances in Vancouver, and influence on me as I travelled the route of thinking about, deciding on and producing the opera.


Before I ever thought of producing Nixon in China, I read MacMillan’s award-winning book Paris 1919. I learned so much about the treaty of Versailles: the behind-the-scenes negotiations, the rigid demands of the victors, the thwarted hopes of so many smaller countries and minority groups. The backstage machinations of players major and minor were operatic! The book also made clear to me how that process did so much to set the stage for continuing instability and, indeed, for World War II. In short – Paris 1919 was a key in my more mature understanding of 19th and 20th century European history, and a pivotal experience in directing my interest toward more non-fiction and world history.

As I began to contemplate producing John Adams’s and Alice Goodman’s opera, I turned early-on to MacMillan’s equally-fascinating, equally enlightening book Nixon in China: The Week that Changed the World (also published in the US as Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the World). It has been interesting to read her account of events depicted in the opera: hers always perhaps more factual, of course, and more detailed, and always illuminating of the events depicted in the opera.

I honestly don’t remember now who first suggested I contact Margaret MacMillan about coming to Vancouver during our production. Was it an involved member of the board of directors? Was it a patron who knew Margaret? Was it me? I don’t remember and only care because I’d like to give proper credit. The fact is, I did contact her first through her publisher and then through a mutual friend; I was surprised and excited that she was eager to be a part of our activities surrounding our performances, and so pleasant to deal with as we worked through the various arrangements and logistics required to have her in Vancouver for two public appearances during the run of the show.

Her book has been instrumental, as well, to the creative team that has conceived this new production and Canadian premiere. I have seen well-thumbed copies in the opera offices and on the scenic design tables. Cast members have referenced her work regularly.

It is seldom that one has the chance to attend an opera about people we have read about in the daily newspaper and have grown up “knowing;” it is also rare to have the opportunity to interact with a renown historian and author who has brought us close to these characters and such an incredible, world-changing event as the meeting between Mao and Nixon. I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity!

Dates and times and details of Margaret MacMillan’s appearances in Vancouver and performances of Nixon in China are available on our website.

~ James W. Wright, General Director

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