Scottish Opera's Mathilda du Tillieul McNicol on Nixon in China and their Under 26 offer

Ahead of the Scottish Opera’s premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China, the production's Assistant Director Mathilda du Tillieul McNicol tells us more about the opera and their Under 26 scheme

Advertorial by Tallah Brash | 04 Feb 2020
  • Nixon in China
Scottish Opera
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“Opera is for everyone and anyone, and I think Nixon in China is a good first opera. It’s in English, the production is superb, and the drama is compelling!”

Ahead of the Scottish Opera premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China on 18 February, we speak with the production’s Assistant Director Mathilda du Tillieul McNicol to find out why the show was hailed as a new kind of docu-opera and learn what makes this almost 50-year-old story still relevant in 2020. Following three performances at Glasgow's Theatre Royal, this new co-production with The Royal Danish Theatre and Teatro Real Madrid then transfers to Edinburgh's Festival Theatre for two further dates, and if you're under 26 you can bag any seat in the house for just £10 with Scottish Opera's Under 26 ticket deal.

A collaboration with poet and librettist Alice Goodman and theatre director Peter Sellars, Adams’ work is inspired by the 37th President, Richard Nixon’s state visit to China in 1972. As an anti-Communist, Nixon was determined to strengthen relationships between the US and China. It was the first time a president had ever visited the East Asian country and it happened right at the birth of the live media age.

“The opera explores a significant moment in history in 1972, where every step was captured and followed by the media,” McNicol tells us. “In fact, President Nixon and [the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China] Chou en Lai’s first meeting from the touchdown of the plane outside Peking was the second biggest television moment in history after the moon landing!”

Continuing, she adds: “This piece explores the story of Nixon’s trip, along with his wife Pat, which was an event of great political significance, and orchestrated for the benefit of the media. The opera humanises the politicians by exploring not just public but also private moments. The director John Fulljames takes us to a deeper level of understanding of people we only ever knew from media reports. We go under their skin and learn how history was and is made.”

With the prevalence of the media, and especially with social media now in most people’s day to day lives, this historic event is still incredibly relevant in 2020, especially given the current political climate. “It is timeless as it explores key decision makers in a politically unstable world and shows the significance of their decision making," McNicol says, adding: "The reflective Act 3 sparks a very powerful message: revealing how once powerful political men are powerless by the end of their lives, but shows how the choices they made affected everyone.”

Hailed as the pioneer for a new kind of docu-opera, Adams’ wide-ranging score will have young music fans just as excited as keen historians. “John Adams’ score is extremely versatile, with huge ranges in sounds.” McNicol further explains: “He uses pre-recorded sample sounds alongside big orchestral textures, minimalist passages, and includes jazz references that evoke Nixon’s youth in the 1930s. Our conductor Joana Carneiro is as much interested in the dramatic world as the music world which I think is key for telling a story through music and words.”

With the recent rise in popularity of movie musicals, if you’re already a fan of the genre and relished in the thrill of 2017 smash The Greatest Showman, now could be the perfect time to give opera go. As McNicol puts it: “If you like music and you like watching dramas, whether it’s on Netflix or YouTube, then it’s definitely worth trying opera!”

And with Scottish Opera’s incredible Under 26 scheme, if you’re lucky enough to fall into that age category, it means you can enjoy all the glitz and glamour of a big production in real life for only £10, and unlike some other young person ticket offers, you can book any seat at any performance of the show you want to see. Get in quick and you can have the best seats in the house! McNicol concludes: “That’s basically a night at the cinema, but you get to see something live!”

Of course, if Nixon in China doesn't sound quite up your street, Scottish Opera's spring season is packed with eclectic shows that offer something for everyone. Keep up-to-date with Scottish Opera's Under 26 offer @ScottishOpera.

Scottish Opera: Nixon in China runs at Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 18, 20 & 22 Feb; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 27 & 29 Feb – tickets available here