Our history is no longer ours


Jason Farago reflects on the opera "Nixon in China" and the promises of the past @ n+1.At the opera last week, first two boxes down from mine, then right in front of me at the bar, was the former governor general of Canada. As celebrity sightings go it doesn’t beat sitting next to Dr. Ruth once, but a head of state is a head of state. That was not what C. thought, though. “Do you know who that is?” I asked, and he did not miss a beat: “Unless she’s a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, I’m not interested.”Who could blame him? Who else matters? Much has been made lately of the transformed position of Tricky Dick in the American imagination, but what was really inconceivable for John Adams and his collaborators when they wrote Nixon in Chinain 1987 was that, by its Met premiere in 2011, the presidency itself would be approaching global irrelevance. It’s a funny, Egyptian-inflected moment, of course. And it’s perhaps unfair to consider the US (or the President specifically) only in apposition to the People’s Republic—though the Chinese setting of the opera seems almost overkill, as any work of art about America today would be about China by default. But as Nixon sings in Act I, while China lives in the present, in America “it’s yesterday night.” Perhaps the day is not far off when Barack Obama in Box 15 will excite C. just as little.read more