Saturday, February 16, 2019
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Mondale reviews 'Nixon in China'
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Former Vice President Walter Mondale attended a recent "Nixon in China" opera performance, to offer his recollections of that historic event in 1972. (MPR Photo/Jeff Jones)
The Minnesota Opera is taking the term "political theater" literally these days. Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Mao Zedong are all main characters in the Opera's current production, "Nixon in China," playing at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul. At a recent performance, MPR's Tom Crann got the perspective of a man who's no stranger to the political stage himself -- former Vice President Walter Mondale.

St. Paul, Minn. — Mondale was one of Minnesota's U.S. senators in 1972, when President Nixon shocked the world by flying to communist China in the middle of the Vietnam War.

"It was a tremendous and awesome event in modern world history," Mondale says.

Mr. Mondale vividly remembers watching, with the rest of the world, as Richard and Pat Nixon arrived in China -- exiting Air Force One to greet Chinese Foreign Minister Chou En-Lai on the tarmac.

"There were a bunch of senators in the Senate cloak room watching this unbelievable event," Mondale recalls. "And it was unbelievable for old Democrats like me, because Nixon had spent his life running against the Chinese communists. To think that this was the person who would make this big about-face and open up relations with China was doubly astounding."

As for the opera itself, Mondale says it has made him look at, and remember the events in a new way.

"Here's a poet and an artist looking at the same story. I look at it politically. He looks at it personally and poetically," says Mondale.

The opera set includes several television sets running video of scenes of the actual events of 1972.

"For people like us who lived through it, to be able to see those very moments again as the opera moves forward -- I've never seen it done like this before," says Mondale.

To hear Mondale's complete interview with MPR's Tom Crann, choose the audio link in the right column.